Title: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Author: Stephanie Oakes
Genre: contemporary, mystery (YA)
Published in 2016 by Speak
Rating: ★★★★.₅ – loved it
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.
I bought this book during YALC 2018 in London because I remembered hearing some buzz about it prior to its release. I’ve always been fascinated by cults, so this book seemed perfect for me. I can’t believe it took me almost a year to read it, because it was incredible.
This novel follows Minnow Bly, whose parents joined the Kevinian cult when she was 5. She grew up in their compound in the middle of nowhere, following the rules of their prophet. Minnow’s doubts about the prophet have been increasing for years, and she gets punished more frequently as she gets older.
The story is divided into the past and the present. In the present, Minnow is in juvenile detention for a crime she committed after escaping. In the past, she is growing up in the cult and meeting a boy who lives with his dad in the woods close to their compound. As the novel continues, Minnow’s story unfolds and you slowly learn how she lost her hands, and how she eventually escaped.
That’s right, I said ‘how she lost her hands’. One of the few things you know going into this book is that the Prophet ordered her hands to be cut off for disobeying him (and thus, God). I have to admit that reading how this happened, and why, was devastating. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
In those moments, I wish I could’ve articulated how unremarkable brutality is. How common.
I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite timeline in this book. Both had their fascinating, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking moments, which is why this was such a fast read for me. I didn’t want to put it down at all. I think this is the perfect book for those in a reading slump because the compelling nature of it will make you want to read it in one sitting.
What stood out to me most is Minnow’s life in juvie. She meets a ton of other girls there, whose lives mirror hers in one aspect or another.
Here, my scars are the only part of me that could be called normal. It seems like every girl here has had their own personal Prophet.
It truly made me think about the huge amount of girls who grow up in abusive homes, have abusive partners, or grow up in poverty. The odds are stacked against them from the start, and there’s barely a way out of that life. When they finally fight back against their abusers in the only way accessible to them, they get sent to juvie/jail.
It left me stuck in this grey area of morality. Of course I don’t think we should all murder or assault people. But what else were some of these girls supposed to do? Just take the abuse forever? They have no power, and need to take some back in one way or another. I just felt so much for them, and it makes me want to do more research on juvenile detention centers in my own country.
Aside from Minnow’s life in juvie, a large part of the book also takes place at the cult’s compound. I don’t want to say too much about this part, because this is where the mystery aspect of the story comes into play. What I will say, is that the intriguing part of the cult is the different way it affects the followers.
Part of her doubting the teachings of her Prophet results in her trying to get others to leave the compound with her, to escape. She’s baffled when she realizes that not everyone wants to leave. I think the author did an incredible job portraying the mindsets of the cult people. The ones who are so indoctrinated, the ones who are simply to afraid to take action, and the ones who would do anything to leave.
But the offer of freedom doesn’t mean anything to people who already think they’re free.
This story does partly revolve around love, as Minnow meets someone while she lives at the compound and falls in love with him. The romance aspect never takes over the rest of the story, however. It’s an important part of the main character’s life which is why it’s entangled in her memories. But it’s not the core of the story. I loved the way the author managed to intertwine all these different aspects of a person’s life, without allowing one to overwhelm and overtake the others.
I don’t know how else to convince you to pick this book up. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll give it a try. It’s a brutal read, and will make you doubt humanity once again, but it’s an important read as well. Family, friendship, and love are all prominent parts in Minnow’s life, and Stephanie Oakes portrays both the beautiful and ugly parts of the relationships in the main character’s life.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it?