The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
by Stephanie Oakes
And you thought your family had issues. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oaks is sort of a combination Orange is the New Black + Sister Wives + The People's Temple + the creepiest of all creepy fairy tales. This isn't an easy read. Minnow Bly is a 17-year-old who has lived in a backwoods cult with her family for the last 12 years of her life. Her hands were chopped off. She escaped assaulted someone and now found herself in a juvenile detention facility searching for some truth.
Minnow could easily have become a bitter force driving the book. She has so much reason to be angry. It would be understandable. So much crap happens to her. And she does have rage inside of her. But more importantly, she becomes driven. Her persistence of spirit is amazing. She was vulnerable, strong, and likable. Her experiences damage her but cannot break her.
The flashbacks to the community are difficult to read. I can't decide if it is more disturbing that the Kevinian religion is so randomly and, to the reader, obviously made up or if the distortion of a real religion would have been worse. There are familial, cultural, and societal norms that the people in the Community had to ignore and reject deliberately. It is hard to imagine, and yet you can see how quickly it does happen.
Her friend Angel is heartbreaking. She reminds me of this Tedtalk that I saw years ago. In in a man who worked with inmates on death row said, "You are more than the worst thing that you have ever done." That is Angel. Defined as a murderer but somehow transcending it.
The central theme of this novel was knowledge and truth. The differences between what we are told, what we believe, and what is real. How we all knit these things together to make our own truths. These are things that have been withheld from her her whole life. She wasn't allowed to read, to question, or to embrace faith on her own. Minnow struggles the entire book to figure out not only what she believes but also how to justify that belief. Not only is she asking, "What is true?" she is asking, "How do I know that this is true?"
What saves this novel from being too dark and terrible to read about is the flashes of humanity and humor. There are terrible people in this book, but there are also people that try to help and befriend Minnow. Other inmates, prison workers, teachers, her psychiatrist. She helps and is helped by all kinds of individuals. She smiles and laughs and learns to make jokes with them. She learns to answer her own questions.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is one of the most gripping contemporary YA novels that I have read in a long time. This is the second read for me and like the first time I have had it simmering in the back of my mind for days since I have finished reading it. This is a book that stays with you.
The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust.
And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.
Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it's clear that Minnow knows something—but she's not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in oneself.