“Everybody’s lost something,” he says. “Most of us never get the chance to have it returned.” This small line said by FBI agent Dr. Wilson, is perhaps one of the most poignant. As the reader works their way through the Sacred Lies, you can’t help but to recognize how each character you encounter, has in their own right, lost something, whether tangible or less definable and is seeking a way to feel whole again.
The threads of loss, grief, redemption and growth weave themselves throughout Stephanie Oaks’s novel, “The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly”. Though I was reluctant to pick this one up, I am very glad that I did. The cover art is beautiful, the back blurb and premise of the story intriguing and different. While at certain points, I would find myself putting the book down and shaking my head in disbelief over what I was reading, the end pay off was worthwhile and overall I enjoyed it. It was recommend to me by a librarian friend who posed the question, “Would you be interested in a book about a teen girl accused of murder, who subsequently has no hands?” Yes, I knew then, that this was bound to make my reading list.
The novel follows main character and reluctant narrator, Minnow Bly, a seventeen year old former cult member who is facing murder and assault charges while in Juvenile Detention. Shortly after she is assigned a cell, she is approached by an FBI agent who strikes a deal with her. If Minnow provides information about the cult she came from, its subsequent destruction and the death of its prophet, he will write a letter on her behalf to assist her with her release on her eighteenth birthday.
We are then drawn into Minnow’s life, beginning with her upheaval from the ordinary by her parents, as they followed their new prophet Kevin into the woods, to form a more perfect society. To the rules and regulations of the Kevinian Cult, which were mercurial and demanding. The appearance of abject racism that pervaded their group, and the blind willingness to believe in someone who by all accounts was largely unbelievable.
Readers are able to see first hand as Minnow grows, how she is not as adaptable to the Kevinian lifestyle, and, how she wishes to push boundaries, grow and question the universe around her. We also witness in detail, how she pays the price for those wishes.
Minnow’s story-line itself flits a bit back and forth as she finds herself caught up in memories of the people and places of her past, and at times it can feel a bit all over the place. There isn’t any consistent chronology for her memories and the onus is placed largely on the reader to try and piece together what events happened when.
Though many other characters are introduced throughout the novel, two stand out significantly to me. Angel, Minnow’s juvenile cellmate, who despite her initial description lives up to her namesake, and Jude, whose family history and own off the grid lifestyle lends itself to an interesting contrast with regulated cult living; as well as offering the ability for readers to see how the complexities of religion and race can still come into play out in the wild.
As I wish to leave this review as spoiler free as I can, I will instead say this. At first read, this book is page turning and deceptively simplistic, but it does have a story and a main character who will linger with you if you allow her to.
When you pause to give a slightly deeper reflection to the text, as well as the context and circumstances surrounding its narrator, I think you may be surprised to see all that comes from this YA debut.
If you are looking for your next read, I would definitely recommend “The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” by Stephanie Oaks and I look forward to hearing your comments and interpretations!