It’s been a while since I’ve read a YA book that grabs you by the shoulders, sits you down, puts a big mug of tea in your hand and very clearly says “You are staying here for HOURS to read this book”.The Sacred
Lies of Minnow Bly is that book. It’s a debut YA novel from Stephanie Oakes and it is really quite a tour de force. The writing is so beautiful, descriptive and evocative. Oakes muses on the concept of justice (both poetic and legal), free will, religion (evidence for, corruption of, finding and losing) while presenting a heroine who learns to claim back her identity and freedom.
Minnow Bly is 17, the only survivor of a religious cult that has burned to the ground in the woods of Montana. Minnow has grown up, confined to the “Kevinian’ cult led by a cruel and insane ‘Prophet’ who takes her identity and, when she refuses to marry him, her hands. Isolated, uneducated, but with a thirst for freedom, Minnow has always questioned her world and longed to return to the real world outside of the cult. When she tries to escape, she is punished cruelly. But there is nothing that will stop Minnow from surviving.
This book is dark. Like any fairy-tale, the darkness at it’s core, and the way it breaks to the surface will give you chills. The writing is amazing, but the story is brutal. From the first page we learn the Minnow has had her hands chopped off as punishment, that she escaped a cult, that she hurt a stranger so badly she is thrown into juvenile detention. The story shifts between Minnow’s current life in prison, where she is adjusting to the odd ‘freedom’, her friendship with her cellmate Angel, her exploration of religion and education; and the past, which she relates to the FBI agent investigating the murder of the prophet and destruction of the community and the loss of her friend Jude. The agent investigating the fire slowly draws the truth of her life out of Minnow and we slowly piece together the events that led to the explosive end of the cult and Minnow’s break for freedom.
I was so amazed by this book and by the author’s talent! The strength of the writing, the mastery of language is something that keeps that the suspense high and the pages turning. This book was so hard to put down! There was some pretty horrific, gory bits in the first half of the book though, definitely launching it into the thriller genre. But when the horror is countered against the almost dead-pan, wry commentary of prison life, and Minnow’s inimitable voice, it just adds to all the reasons you won’t be able to put this book down.
This story is brutal and heart breaking but you will be recommending it to everyone. Minnow is an amazing new heroine for the YA genre and Stephanie Oakes is certainly a new author to watch. Her next novel, The Arsonist is due for 2016.