Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hands down a book to pick up: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Stephanie Oakes
Dial Books, 2015
Kindle Copy: B00O2BKKQ2

Minnow lost her faith, her family, and her hands to a cult.  Raised for most of her life in the Kevinian cult, Minnow escapes and runs away the night the cult is burned to the ground, suspiciously taking the prophet Kevin with it and immediately lands in prison after an assault. Minnow struggles to come to terms with her old life in the cult and adjust to her new world of juvie, the real world, and learning to get by without her hands. The FBI psychologist assigned to her following the high profile and mysterious nature of the cults demise (and existence) suspects Minnow knows more than she’s letting on, but Minnow isn’t ready to talk...yet.  This is a brutal and brilliant novel, but it does contain some fairly graphic violence, dark themes, and dark humor, so it is not recommended for the squeamish!  It is, however, strongly recommended for teens over 15 and adults (both dudes and dudettes), and all YA collections in public and high school libraries, especially as it was just named a 2016 Morris Honor Book. I rate this: G for get after it already. (Also: Gore)

As I noted, this is a brilliant and brutal book.  It’s probably the best YA I’ve read in months, and I’m stoked it won something at the Youth Media Awards (I finished it on the eve of the announcements and was pumped to hear about it the Morris honor over morning coffee in my office with my awesome coworkers), but less stoked it didn’t come into play for the Printz.  What up, committee??!!!  Doesn’t Marcus Sedgwick have a deservedly fat enough head for that crown by now?  

I digress from talking about this deserving, fabulous first time novel though.  

It really is nothing short of extraordinary. Before I get off on my “ooooh beautifulness and turn of phrase-mooning” let me tell you a little bit about this book.  It is perhaps elevator speech best described as Orange Is The New Black meets The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt meets Capadocia….meets something else involving nature and survival that I can’t come up with at the mo.   I mean, come on, dudes.  If that doesn’t scratch your Netflix itches and make you want to pick this up, I think you may have failed at being a culture vulture.  It’s just awful at times, in the way Kimmie Schmidt and OITNB hint at but tapdance right by (but Capadocia nails), but it has a dark humor and levity and truly endearing protagonist in Minnow.  We really care about her, and about the people in her world.  It’s part trainwreck, but also part cheerleading exercise as we watch a girl whose life has been just...super messed up…tenaciously reclaim her faith in herself, other people, and the world. I was floored by the moment in which Minnow, realizing how vital hope is to people, especially in having any kind of faith, opts not to tear apart the views of others in a juvie church group because she sees the ultimate cruelty in taking that away from them as selfish, though she really does have the legs to stand on.  In a book for teens!  High level high five, Stephanie Oakes.  

And that’s where I segue into moony! I’d love to see what an English teacher could do with comparing cult life to prison life, hand symbolism, descriptive language, etc. Someone do this and let me know, mmkay? It is a work of both brilliant writing but also brilliant storytelling. It tackles race, sexuality, sexism, faith, humanity, survival, forgiveness, friendship, trust, second chances and does it all in way that is really hard to put down; I ripped through this in like four days. I’ve gone on for a while, and I haven’t even mentioned that I like the cover...which all things considered also deserves a high five and maybe a shiver. What a yarn Stephanie Oakes has woven! It’s hard to believe this is her first crack at it. I can’t wait to read what comes next (but maybe with 100% less amputations?).

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