Title: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Author: Stephanie Oakes
Genre: Young Adult
Publication Date: 22nd June 2015
Rating: 4/5 stars
I received an advanced reading copy from HarperCollinsYA.
The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, and her ability to trust.
And when Minnow rebelled, they took away her hands, too.
Now the Kevinian Prophet has been murdered and the camp set aflame and it’s clear Minnow knows something. But she’s not talking. As she adjusts to a life behind bars in juvenile detention, Minnow struggles to make sense of all she has been taught to believe, particularly as she dwells on 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 is willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.
Powerful and compelling, this remarkable and brave debut novel reveals the terrible dangers of blind faith. And the importance of having faith in yourself.
This book started with the words I am a blood-soaked girl. Minnow has a body, beaten to a pulp, at her feet. It is a startling jolt to the system, but sets us up effectively for the provoking story which is to follow.
For the assault, Minnow is sentenced to a juvenile detention centre. Her story is told from there, in instalments, to an FBI agent, Dr Wilson. We learn about her life in the cult, and watch as she begins to live her new life, making friends and educating herself. I loved the scene where her reading level was being tested – it was very poignant, the difference knowledge can make.
The story is a very vague retelling of the Grimm Brother’s Handless Maiden– I liked the small links to the fairytale throughout, though it wasn’t as obvious as I had imagined from other people’s reviews.
The ease with which this book could become reality makes the Kevinian cult truly terrifying. Though I did find it hard at times taking it seriously, being named after the prophet Kevin. The cult hearkens back to a time when women were possessions. The men marry multiple women and have children with each of them. Minnow herself has seventeen siblings. Then there are the ridiculously harsh punishments. Bertie, a girl who tried to run away back to the real world, is made to wear red-hot iron shoes until she is crippled – this has links to the original Brothers Grimm tale of Snow White, where the witch was forced to dance in red-hot shoes until she died. And we know that Minnow has had her hands cut off, though we don’t know why until near the end of the book.
The blind faith many in the community have is absolutely terrifying. A young black man, who lives in the forest and becomes Minnow’s forbidden friend, is beaten to a pulp when he tries to help her, with the community watching on. Constance, Minnow’s sister is a great example of blind faith – she was the first child born in the community, without any interference from the outside world.
I liked the insight into the juvenile detention system as well. Angel is awesome, if slightly scary. Although she gives off a tough vibe, there is a sensitivity in the way she cares for Minnow. I also really enjoyed that Minnow, despite having no hands and despite all the difficulties her life has given her, never sees herself as a victim.
The story itself is impeccably written, with layers being revealed slowly and carefully (like an onion). The chapters are brilliantly short – I love short chapters; mostly because at night I can convince myself to read just two more, instead of just the one! The story didn’t grab me as much as I had expected, but I still couldn’t leave the book alone. I recommend this as a creepy alternative to the traditional young adult out at the moment – I wouldn’t be surprised if cults becomes the next big thing, with this starting the whole trend!