Title: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Publisher: Dial Books
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher through Penguin’s First to Read Program
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.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes is a unflinchingly honest portrayal of life inside a religious cult. Although a work of fiction, every heartbreaking detail rings true and the novel raises very thought-provoking questions and answers about blindly following the teachings of a self-proclaimed spiritual leader.
When Minnow Bly was five years old, her parents followed Prophet Kevin into the Montana wilderness where they helped build and then lived in a secluded Community with other followers. They never questioned the Prophet’s increasingly bizarre teachings and they followed his every command without any protest. The Kevinian cult believed in taking more than one wife and the Prophet decided which young girl the much older men would marry. The women and children carried out the most strenuous tasks while the men were made Deacons of the “church”. The cult members had no contact with the outside world but Minnow faintly recalled small details of life before her family joined the Prophet which caused her to doubt some of his proclamations.
When the novel opens, Minnow has been arrested for a vicious assault on a young man following her escape from the wilderness compound. She is convicted of the crime and sent to a juvenile detention center where an FBI forensic psychologist offers her a deal that could lead to her parole on her eighteenth birthday. In exchange for his testimony at her upcoming parole hearing, Minnow must tell Dr. White the harrowing details about the night the Prophet died and the Kevinian compound was set ablaze. Through flashbacks and her vivid account to Dr. White, the story of Minnow’s life with the Prophet is revealed and surprisingly, with the help of the doctor and her cellmate, Angel, Minnow begins to heal from her horrific ordeal.
While not technically a mystery, there is a suspense element to the storyline. Minnow is reluctant to divulge the events of the night of the Prophet’s death but why? What reason could she possibly have for keeping a secret of this magnitude? Is she responsible for his death? If not, who is trying to protect? The answers to these questions might just lie in her surprising and unexpected friendship with Jude, an outsider who lives close to the religious compound. This friendship leads Minnow to sneak away at every opportunity to escape her cloistered life with the Kevinians. These experiences with Jude also foster some of her skepticism of Prophet Kevin’s somewhat ludicrous teachings.
At the juvenile detention center, Minnow strikes up an unlikely friendship with Angel who helps her navigate the confusing life among the other inmates. After years in seclusion, Minnow is incredibly naive and at first, she finds it difficult to leave behind the teachings of Prophet Kevin. She is also uncertain of her own opinions and looks to others to tell her what to think about the questions she has about life, faith and the world in general. Minnow is extremely intelligent and through the programs available to her, she begins the arduous tasks of learning to read and gain the skills needed to live a regular life. Surprisingly, Minnow does not turn her back on faith and she finds comfort in certain passages from the Bible.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is an extraordinarily fascinating novel and the storyline is incredibly compelling. Minnow is an extremely complex and sympathetic character and she is also very easy to like despite the circumstances that led to her incarceration. Cults are infinitely intriguing and Stephanie Oakes provides a credible scenario for how disenfranchised and dissatisfied people can easily be led astray as they search for a better life for themselves and their loved ones. An absolutely outstanding novel that is quite hopeful despite the rather serious subject matter and one that I highly recommend.