“The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oakes (An ARC Review)

imageI finished this book days ago. I’ve been without a book to read for days. What is the matter with me? I have so many books that I have left to read on my shelf, not to mention the dozens I’ve seen during my many trips to Dymocks over the last few weeks. But I can’t get to any of them until I write this book up!

Though, I am going to say that I am proud of the fact that The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly isn’t slated to be released until July and I finished the ARC two months early!

When I first read the blurb, I thought this was going to be a fantasy novel about some messed up shaman in a magical land who abuses his power and orders some of his followers to lose their hands for some messed up ceremony. Admittedly, I wasn’t too far off. This book is about Minnow Bly, a seventeen-year-old girl who grew up in a cult.

We first meet Minnow after she has beaten someone to within an inch of their lives. And we follow her journey from that snowy, blood-soaked night to juvy. The first nine chapters are all set in the present tense, and then when skip back and forth between Minnow’s time in the cult, or The Community, and her time in juvy.
The change in the timeline was abrupt for me. Not in a bad way, it just kind of came about without warning. Like we were living Minnow’s recollections with her. It was a bold move.

Another bold move on Oakes’ part was that the flashbacks weren’t linear. We don’t get Minnow’s past from her birth to the present moment. We get bits and pieces of her past; whichever bits are relevant to Minnow’s situation in juvy, at any given moment. This could have alienated the audience, but it gave Minnow’s memories a believability that wouldn’t have happened if we got memories in a strictly linear progression. Memory is so much more random than that. So not only did Oakes give us a realistic representation of memory, but she also managed to create tension by giving us tidbits of why Minnow beat up the guy, who killed the Prophet, and other snippets of info that all came together beautifully.

The  premise of this story is tantalising in its complete and utter uniqueness. Not only is Minnow part of a cult (not by choice, her parents joined when she was five), but she is in juvenile detention. She has a criminal record. Minnow is a kind of anti-hero. She has been convicted of a crime and her story is being explored. She isn’t pushed aside as a “villain” or demonised in anyway. And, for that matter, neither are the other inmates. We see them as complex people with many different facets to their personalities. Not one person is defined by their crime. This is so brave for YA. In a genre where moralising runs rampant, this book was like a breath of fresh air. I’m not saying that all YA is preachy, because otherwise I wouldn’t read it, but a lot of the time you can feel the author’s opinions on teenage sex and relationships and drugs and pregnancy shining through. Not in Sacred Lies.

However, there are parts of this novel, significant parts, that are thinly veiled science versus religion debates and they really pissed me off. I understand that Minnow was raised crazy religious (emphasis on crazy), but did her cellmate, Angel, have to be so anti-religious? Did she has to be so atheist? Their conversations were jarring. There were no real shades of grey. Minnow believes in something, Angel believes in nothing. Their discussions simply sounded like the squabbling that goes on in the media day in and day out: Science versus Religion. I sped read through these sections. The debate was clearly the author’s agenda. She clearly wanted to present both sides of this debate. I hate seeing an author’s agenda in such blatant terms. I understand that Minnow needed a way to learn about the world, since she wasn’t educated, but Angel could have conceded that there may be something else out there. Minnow comes around to scientific fact, but she still believes in something bigger. A person’s beliefs are so magnificently complex that I feel like these conversations were an oversimplification. I could be being way too critical, but that’s just my opinion.

I also loved the Jude/Minnow relationship and the way it progressed. It was so…real. Jude was her first love and he showed her the love and happiness and security and warmth that she was lacking from her family. But when Minnow went to juvy and started learning about the world, she started to outgrow Jude. And I thought that was amazing. How many YA series have you read where the main characters stay together forever? This rarely happens outside of movies and books and TV. So having Oakes depict this side of teenage relationships really moved me.

I loved this book. The plot, the pace, and the characters all worked. And were all so fresh that I really can’t think of another book like it out there. Especially in YA land. However, the whole religion versus science thing was hard to swallow. So I give this book:

★★★★

Definitely check this book out when it’s released in July!

 

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About Bec Graham

Bec Graham, 24, was born on the wrong continent. Everything from her burns-like-paper skin tone to her inability to cope with the slightest hint of a hot day suggests she should have been born under the gloomy skies and mild sun of the UK. She hopes writing will get her to her rightful home one day. Failing that, she scans the skies for a spinning blue police box, hoping to catch a lift back to the motherland.
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6 Responses to “The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oakes (An ARC Review)

  1. Ooooh, this one sounds really interesting! I’ve never read a book about a cult before but have seen plenty of movies/TV about it, and we covered it quite a bit in some of my social psychology lectures. I think it would be interesting to look at from a YA perspective.

    Great review. 🙂

    • Have you ever watched The Following? I’m ADDICTED. It’s about cults.

    • Bec Graham says:

      Wow, thanks! I hadn’t either! It really is a very interesting way of looking at cults. And wow, looking at cults through psychology would be so fascinating! Did you learn about why people are attracted to cults and stuff like that, because that is something that I’m intrigued by: how people get sucked in in the first place. Oakes more focuses on life in the cult that the pre-life, though you get a bit of a glimpse.

      • Yeah, people that get reeled into cults generally have low self-esteem, are easily led or are looking to find meaning in life and haven’t found it, it makes them easy targets! (But when you think about it, how many people fit this description – quite a lot! We all have insecurities.) At first the cult tends to have no strings attached and is presented as a kind of utopia where everything is great and everyone’s best friends, and then slowly they trickle in more rules and ways to control people, slowly isolating them from the outside world more and more. And then one day they turn around and don’t realise how they got there! It’s really clever to be honest, but in a bad way! I honestly believe that if anyone was targeted by a cult for long enough (and they didn’t realise it was a cult) 98% of people would join. Sad but true how easily malleable human nature is!

      • Bec Graham says:

        That is very true. And that describes every single cult I’ve ever seen in movies! Which is terrifying. Everyone wants something better and to give it to people only to manipulate it away is cruel. So, so cruel.
        I like to think that I’d be strong enough to resist a cult but if they caught me at a bad time in my life, I don’t know. It’s scary to think about!
        I think that’s why this book is amazing: it explores the mindset of the people. Especially those who really had no choice in joining, i.e. the children of believers…

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