Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

The Sacred Lies of Minnow BlyTitle: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Author: Stephanie Oakes

Publisher: Dial Books

Release Date: June 9th, 2015

Interest: Contemp / Debut Author

Source: ARC received from the publisher

Summary (From Goodreads):

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.

Gorgeously written, breathlessly page-turning and sprinkled with moments of unexpected humor, this harrowing debut is perfect for readers of Emily Murdoch’s If You Find Me and Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us , as well as for fans of Orange is the New Black.

I’ve wanted to read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes since the publisher sent me an ARC, but somehow it ended up sitting in my TBR stack for a while. Finding out that it’s a William C. Morris finalist is what pushed me to read it over Christmas break. I wish I would have read it sooner!

The first few pages grabbed my attention and never let it go. I couldn’t possibly turn away after this first sentence: “I am a blood-soaked girl.” That line is going to hook some reluctant readers. From there readers find Minnow Bly surrounded by blood in a snow bank and also discover that she no longer has hands. But it’s not her blood.

This debut is often gruesome and haunting. There are lines about the popping of burning skin and we discover how Minnow’s hands were taken from her. But these lines–and many throughout the novel–are also lyrical and written beautifully. Some scenes reminded me of Grimm’s fairy tales, which makes sense after finding out that this story was inspired by the Grimm fairy tale “The Handless Maiden.” It’s a book unlike any other I’ve read before.

Minnow’s story is told mostly through flashbacks while she’s in juvie remembering and detailing her life in the Kevinian cult. As I was reading I kept thinking how unbelievable it is that people fall into cults, but when Minnow meets Jude, an outsider, and they discuss the Bible and the Prophet, I wonder if some people think that about those who believe in God. Some of the flashbacks were so outrageous I sometimes wondered if Minnow was an unreliable narrator. It’s going to be interesting hearing what my students have to say about this after they read The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

It’s interesting to me that Minnow Bly’s hands (I assume they’re Minnow’s hands) are at the forefront of the cover considering her hands have been cut off. I also noticed many references to hands, fingers, nails, etc.:

“Fingernail-sized flakes of snow”
“Bulbous knuckles”
“Rigid finger”

I’m going out on a limb and assuming that was done purposefully. I love noticing imagery like that when I’m reading.

Towards the end I was teary and distraught, but I was able to remain hopeful for Minnow. She becomes friends with her juvie inmate, Angel, whose story broke my heart. It’s her friendship with Angel that helps Minnow see the world differently even though she’s told that Angel is a bad influence. Stephanie Oakes wrote a mystery about a cult, but it’s really more than that. Ultimately it’s about a girl who learns to trust herself and find independence.

I completely agree with The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly being a Morris finalist because it’s an impressive debut. I can’t wait to read The Arsonist which is set to release from Dial/Penguin in fall 2016.

Some read-alikes: The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (minus the magical realism), The Giver by Lois Lowry, and the short essay “Salvation” by Langston Hughes

Comments

  1. Your review made me want to read this book – I felt so many things as I read about Minnow- I was sickened but I could not put it down! Did you ever read The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams? I loved The Chosen One but now it seems to be a tamer version next to Minnow’s trials but still a good read-alike (and not as long (213 pages) – good for reluctant readers)! Back to Minnow- I think Minnow learned so much about herself and life from the cult, Jude’s isolated, fearful life, the juvenile detention facility. She really ends up learning so much from Angel and Dr. Wilson- they answered her questions (or taught her to find her own answers) and in this way Minnow is able to accept/live with her guilt, misgivings,the lies of others and forge a place in the world that will not cause her anguish but prepare her for life on her own terms. Thanks for all your reviews and keep on reading!

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