Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Seventeen-year-old Minnow Bly spends 12 years of her life as part of a religious cult in the woods of Montana. Shortly after they remove her hands as punishment for rebelling, the cult falls and Minnow is placed in a juvenile detention center. While adjusting to her new life, Minnow must unlearn the teachings of her religion and decide whether to tell an FBI detective just what happened in the woods.

Months ago, I read We Were Liars and wrote my first review for this blog. I complained that the book didn’t adequately build suspense because after being told throughout the entire narrative that something crazy happened on the island two years ago, I felt the conclusion wasn’t satisfying or shocking enough. I bring up this issue because I think Stephanie Oakes’ The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly did what We Were Liars tried to do. While I knew that something must have happened at the compound, I still found the ending surprising and disturbing.

The first praise I would like to sing is that the writing is amazing. Despite having such undesirable settings (a juvenile detention center and a fishy compound in the woods), the descriptions were great. Additionally, Minnow is a fascinating character and I loved seeing how she adjusted and adapted to both life outside of the cult and life inside the detention center.

Religion is obviously a huge topic within this book. As someone who isn’t religious, I like seeing different ways people approach belief or spirituality, though I can’t always understand or relate. The Kevinian religion and Jude’s father’s Christianity were surprisingly similar despite appearing so different at first glance. While Kevinianism is foreign and fictional, even a religion as commonplace and familiar as Christianity was similarly corrupted and used as a force of human cruelty and ignorance. On the other side of the spectrum, I liked that the kindest and most beneficent examples of religion or belief were practiced by the girls in the detention center, people who society would deem broken.

The twists in this book are shocking and our protagonist’s transition from survivor to heroine is beautifully executed. Oakes serves up the full range of what humans are capable of, from cruelty to apathy to compassion. Using beautiful prose and at times jarring imagery, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is equal parts disturbing, unresolved, and hopeful.

Title: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Author: Stephanie Oakes
Publisher: Dial/Penguin
My rating: ☆☆☆ (4 stars)
Recommended for: people who like their books dark and twisty.

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