Genre: Social Issues

Mini Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (2015) by Stephanie Oakes

Mini Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (2015) by Stephanie OakesThe Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Published by Penguin on June 9th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Social Issues, Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, Physical & Emotional Abuse, Religious
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself 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.Gorgeously written, breathlessly page-turning and sprinkled with moments of unexpected humor, this harrowing debut is perfect for readers of Emily Murdoch's If You Find Me and Nova Ren Suma's The Walls Around Us, as well as for fans of Orange is the New Black.From the Hardcover edition.

This book is definitely one of my favorite reads for 2015 so far. It’s a gripping story about seventeen year-old Minnow Bly who has just emerged from a cult in the woods—the Kevinian cult (named after the Prophet who founded it, Kevin).

Minnow is in a juvenile detention center for attacking a boy she encountered after she left the cult. However, she is one of the only people who knows how the Prophet died and what happened that last night in the community (which burned to the ground).

That’s why an FBI agent begins visiting her, in an attempt to piece together what happened. But will Minnow reveal anything? That’s a question readers will be wondering about throughout the narrative, a story that is compelling, beautiful, and tragic, but ultimately hopeful. 

I read a huge chunk of this book on a plane journey, and it’s the perfect book for a long road or plane trip because you will want to keep reading in an attempt to find out what happened that last night with the community of the Kevinian cult.

A few things I loved about this book:

Stephanie Oakes, the Wordsmith: The prose of this novel is gorgeous! It’s no surprise to me that the author has an MFA in Poetry—you may find yourself re-reading passages, reflecting symbolic language that features gaps where meaning can be mined. Trust me—there are so many passages in this book you’ll want to highlight and return to later.

The Spirituality: So, it makes sense that a book focusing on a girl emerging from a cult would feature talk about spirituality and religion. It’s clear that the cult Minnow’s family was a part of was abusive and terrible in so many ways (let’s not talk about Minnow’s hands getting cut off—don’t get me started!) but that doesn’t mean that Minnow stops wondering about the existence of God and who made the stars and how God works. There are multiple points in the story where Minnow is talking to others or thinking about the big questions of meaning so many of us don’t ask or think about often enough.

The Hope: There are a lot of dark and sad events in this book—I won’t lie. That includes events that happen prior to the beginning of the book, and are featured through flashbacks of Minnow. Some majorly intense happenings took place within the cult community, and it might make you really mad. But in spite of the twisted beliefs and actions of those in the Kevinian cult, Minnow still manages to keep an open mind, and an underlying hope (as much as it sometimes doesn’t seem like she does). Minnow is coming to grips with the fact that the world may not look the way “The Prophet” said it did. God may be different than who he was constructed to be within the cult. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the narrative is seeped in hope, even in the midst of some very difficult circumstances for Minnow and others.

Quotes I Loved

“Everybody around me was in pain, I realize now, but none of them ever poured it out of themselves into another person. Jude taught me what love was: to be willing to hold on to another person’s pain. That’s it.”

“We have to be happy to keep searching and not knowing all the time.”

“If it’s possible to have a soul, mine was steel-plated and invincible that night, and I think that’s what love does, makes you strong. Makes you think nothing can bring you down.”

This books get all the stars—a solid 5. I’ve already recommended it to multiple readers, but what about you? Did you read Minnow Bly’s story? What did you think?
five-stars
What Katie Read

A YA Contemporary Not to be Missed: Devoted (2015) by Jennifer Mathieu

A YA Contemporary Not to be Missed: Devoted (2015) by Jennifer MathieuDevoted by Jennifer Mathieu
Published by Macmillan on June 2nd 2015
Genres: Contemporary, Religious, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Goodreads
five-stars

Rachel Walker is devoted to God. She prays every day, attends Calvary Christian Church with her family, helps care for her five younger siblings, dresses modestly, and prepares herself to be a wife and mother who serves the Lord with joy. But Rachel is curious about the world her family has turned away from, and increasingly finds that neither the church nor her homeschool education has the answers she craves. Rachel has always found solace in her beliefs, but now she can't shake the feeling that her devotion might destroy her soul.

Even if you don’t usually read Contemporary YA, or fiction that focuses on religion in any shape or form, I would urge you to give Devoted a chance. Mathieu has crafted a beautiful story depicting a journey (of the heart) of a seventeen year-old MC (eighteen by the end of the book) I grew to love. This is probably another top read of mine for 2015 so far. It’s true–I loved this book and was kind of glum when it was over. But there’s a re-read in store for me soon and that makes me very happy!

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Once in awhile a book comes along that you’re left thinking about long after you turn the last page. That happened to me with this book. I was lucky enough to receive an e-ARC of Devoted via Netgalley. Thank you, Macmillan!

What I Loved:

Rachel’s Voice: Rachel’s character is one of the best things about this book—she maintains a sensitive and thoughtful nature throughout everything she goes through. You would think that after growing up within a restricting environment and being forced to attend church several times a week, that Rachel wouldn’t want anything to do with church after she leaves the community. However, this isn’t the case, and though others who leave her church end up never wanting to be a part of anything religious ever again, Rachel is curious about other denominations. She recognizes that not every church is the same—not ever religious community is oppressive and restricting.

“But I can’t possibly know if all churches are the same if I’ve ever been to one in my whole life.”

Rachel loves to read! This may be one reason why she develops a desire for more than what her family and church community offer her. When her father discovers her reading one of her favorite books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, she is reprimanded:

“ ‘I looked through this book, Rachel, and it troubles me. It involved magic and time travel, among other questionable things.’ ”

Well, if I was there, I would have said something to Mr. Walker. I would have asked him where in the Bible is time travel referenced as being “questionable” or wrong. If you ask me, I think time travel would probably be one of God’s favorite activities. Come on, Mr. Walker!

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Look at Rachel’s interior response to this situation—to the loss of her beloved book:

“But there’s another deeper part of me that wants to jump up and cry out. To tell Dad that in the book, Mrs. Who quotes Scripture, telling the children that the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. And that Meg saves her brother because she loves him and light wins over darkness, and isn’t that something? Doesn’t love of family count as good? As godly? And doesn’t Proverbs say that the heart of the righteous studieth how to answer? Doesn’t that mean that pondering, wondering, questioning is all right? That books that make us think should be allowed?”

Rachel’s unvoiced response is beautiful and sensitive and wise. She understands things on a deeper level, and shows insight that her father would do well to hear. It’s interesting because A Wrinkle in Time was one of the four books I focused on in my master’s thesis—a thesis looking at spirituality in four British and American works of fantasy. I even connected themes in these four books with several Biblical retellings for children, to show how the spirituality in these fantasy books can be connected with the spirituality in sacred texts. Needless to say, you can tell that I applauded Rachel’s thoughts on A Wrinkle in Time!

The positive faith aspects: Even though it’s clear that Rachel has been living with a community that restricts women and is extremely legalistic, when Rachel leaves the community, she doesn’t turn her back completely on her faith. In other words, she maintains a faith—a faith that is her own, and that doesn’t necessarily look the way that the “religion” of her community looked like. I appreciated this—because the author didn’t create a simply construction that reflected a girl leaving an oppressive religious culture and completely forgetting about her own spirituality. Rachel still communicates with God, and express interest in church communities that are different than her own. I felt that Mathieu’s treatment of this aspect of the story was well-done and memorable.

Illuminations of Spirituality:

This book depicts a spirituality that is not necessarily positive for those who are practicing it—especially the females. The MC, Rachel, desires to do more than what her religious community deems worthy for a woman. Rather than just stay at home and bear children, Rachel considers there is more to life than this, at least for her. However, her desire as a woman within her community is not one she is supposed to have, and when she voices this desire, problems arise.

It probably seems normal to many of us that as they grow older girls should have choices, and they should have the freedom to make choices. However, Rachel Walker’s community doesn’t think this way, and this lack of control over her own destiny becomes almost oppressive. Her journey towards breaking away from this kind of oppression is one I (and probably most readers) celebrated in the book, and as the narrative progresses, Rachel becomes more confident and begins to understand that though her family and a religious community might try to hold her back, God doesn’t necessarily do the same.

“What if God is saying Rachel, what is it you plan on doing now that I’ve gifted you with this mind and this heart and this itch to know about the deepest parts of the ocean and the highest crests of the mountains and the darkest edges of space?”

Who Should Read This Book:

If you enjoy Contemporary YA, give this book a chance. Even if you aren’t religious or even if you’re anti-religious, you may be surprised at how much you enjoy (I hope!) this story. It’s a fantastic new release from an author that I will be watching to see if she might write about any of the other characters in Devoted. I’m really hoping for that!

What did you think of Devoted? Are there other Young Adult books dealing with religion or spirituality that you think I should check out?

five-stars
What Katie Read

ARC Mini Review: Challenger Deep (2015) by Neil Shusterman

ARC Mini Review: Challenger Deep (2015) by Neil ShustermanChallenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Published by HarperCollins on April 21st 2015
Genres: Boys & Men, Contemporary, Depression & Mental Illness, Social Issues, Special Needs, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Goodreads
three-stars

A captivating novel about mental illness that lingers long beyond the last page, Challenger Deep is a heartfelt tour de force by New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman. Caden Bosch is on a ship that's headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench. Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior. Caden Bosch is designated the ship's artist in residence to document the journey with images. Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head. Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny. Caden Bosch is torn. Challenger Deep is a deeply powerful and personal novel from one of today's most admired writers for teens. Laurie Halse Anderson, award-winning author of Speak, calls Challenger Deep "a brilliant journey across the dark sea of the mind; frightening, sensitive, and powerful. Simply extraordinary."

**Thank you, Heather Doss, for this ARC! This in no way affected my honest review of the book.

Illuminations:

Challenger Deep is unlike any book I’ve read before about mental illness. Granted, I haven’t read many young adult novels about this topic, but of the books I’ve read in the recent past, this one stands out as being unique. If I had to describe this book in one word while I was reading it, it would probably be “weird.” The style is totally different than what I normally read. At times I was confused, and it took me a long time to read a book that really wasn’t that long. For some reason, I just had a hard time picking the book back up and finishing it.

Challenger Deep is a place—it’s the lowest point on Earth, at the bottom of the Marianas Trench. In one “reality” of the book, the MC (Caden) is on a ship, traveling to that point—Challenger Deep. The story revolves around Caden making that journey—and it’s the symbolic nature of that journey that is important to the overall plot.

I think you need to pay attention when you read this book, as it switches between the MC’s real world and the world of the ship. In this way, it has a touch of magical realism, but sometimes I had to go back and see what “world” I was in. At the beginning I was definitely confused, but when considering that the book is meant to give us a deeper perspective into the life of a character who is struggling with mental illness, well, it seems that a little confusion is understandable.

The chapters are short and titled and this choice I think reflects something about the thought patterns of the MC. At least that’s one way to interpret the narrative structure.

Who Should Read This Book:

Shusterman’s new book from Harper Collins is an important story—it illuminates a very real issue in the lives of teens—that of mental illness. The creative way the author does this (along with his son’s art) makes the content and themes even more meaningful. The glimpses of the MC on the ship give the reader a special perspective on what it’s like to live with mental illness.

Librarians and teachers especially should be aware of this title as they can recommend it to readers looking for fiction about the topic.

The Final Illumination:

I think I’m in the minority here because quite a few readers seemed to really enjoy this book—or at least, it worked for them. I’m disappointed that this one just didn’t work for me, though I love Shusterman’s work and think he’s a fabulous writer. I do appreciate the way the author represented mental illness, but it took me so long to finish the book and get into it.  I had high expectations for this book, but as it turned out, it’s not a favorite.

three-stars
What Katie Read
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