The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes Review

p.txtI actually really loved this book. It is probably one of the best books I’ve read this year and yet for some reason when I tried to write about it, I came up blank. But I loved this book too much to not at least make another effort. So here goes. Also, it has been sometime since I read it, so I might be a little hazy on some of the details.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly was an amazing read. There are a few rare books that after you finish them, you find yourself unwilling to pick up another book because you still want to savour what you just read. This is one of those rare books. It stayed with me long after I finished it.

The book is about Minnow Bly, whose parents leave civilization and move to join a cult when she is very young. They call themselves the Kevinians and cut off all contact with the outside world. Education (especially that of women) is not encouraged. It is a brutal world, one that hides that brutality behind the flimsy facade of a twisted faith and asks for complete and utter obedience of its believers. Questions and any deviance from the norms is frowned upon and strongly discouraged.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly was a beautifully written novel. You don’t often find this kind of character complexity and depth in YA novels. The writing was gripping and grim. Yet another book I’ve read this year that didn’t have many (if any) light moments in it. The story itself was grim but it unfolded beautifully. you learn more as one layer after another peeled away. Which also gave the brutality that Minnow suffered more weight. In terms of its treatment and the way it unfolded, it reminded me of All the Truth that’s in Me by Julie Berry. It wasn’t pulled down by unnecessary embellishments. The beauty of the language contrasted nicely with the events it narrated.

When we first meet Minnow, she’s in a serious predicament, she’s covered in blood and almost beat a man to death. She’s immediately hauled off to a detention centre after a trial she had no hope of winning. Suddenly thrust in a world she understands nothing about, she’s disoriented. Add to that, an FBI agent has a sudden and an inexplicable interest in her.

Minnow Bly was a tough girl. She was also smart. She asked questions when everyone around her chose to behave like sheep. She wanted to see the world beyond her immediate surroundings. She had dreams, dreams that differed drastically from what her father and those around her had planned. She wanted to rescue someone who didn’t want to be rescued. She wanted to be free but she underestimated the Prophet and she suffered for it. I liked Minnow as much for her flaws as I did for her strengths.

She was someone who didn’t want to be a victim and yet she was hopelessly unprepared for the challenges of living in this new and confounding world. As a result, her attachment to Angel makes complete sense. Angel runs things in the detention centre and is someone even the guards steer clear of.

In the book, my favourite character is actually Angel. She is the reason why Minnow survives and is a stronger person for it. Angel protects and guides her in the labyrinth that is human interaction. She doesn’t make her feel inadequate or dumb. Angel is the lone person who helps Minnow expecting nothing in return. Her final act of kindness was extremely touching because it was absolutely unexpected. Angel was also an example of the fact that the law often doesn’t protect those who need to be protected. She was forced to protect herself and instead of providing her with counseling and help, she was sent off to a detention centre and would be moved to a prison once she turned 18. As much as I was rooting for Minnow, I think by the end of the book, I was rooting for Angel just as much, if not more.

Even Doctor Wilson, the FBI agent was a surprise. He didn’t turn out the way I expected and you find out more about him as well as the novel progresses. One gets the sense that Minnow’s mother may not have been happy with the Kevinians but no one ever asked her for her opinion and she wasn’t strong enough to leave on her own. Minnow’s relationship with her mother (or lack there off) is incredibly well depicted. Her father, on the other hand I had little sympathy for. I could understand why he would have wanted to leave the city. The Prophet gave him hope, gave him a reason for his misfortune, one that he could understand, something to blame. I could understand why he would want to cling to the cult. But what I can’t understand is why he didn’t protect his daughter. When the Prophet told him to carry out the sentence, you could sense his indecision, but he is ultimately swayed by the Prophet and instead of protecting his daughter, he does her irreparable harm instead.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly was a beautiful book and I loved every minute of it. In a book about brutality, the instances of unexpected kindness stood out and made the book uplifting when it so easily could just been depressing. Very highly recommended.

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