The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
by Stephanie Oakes
Expected Publication Date: June 9, 2015
Length: 400 pages
Obtained Via: Early copy given by Penguin’s first to read program. This in no way affects my final opinion of the book.
View at the Traffic light:
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.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow By is a hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in oneself.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly felt like a mash-up of several books I liked better. It pains me to say that, because this book was on my most anticipated debut lists of the year. This book is one part The Walls Around Us, Gated, and If You Find Me, but it didn’t reach the beautiful writing and storytelling of the first, or the emotional impact of the second two.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly opens with Minnow(yes, that’s her name, and it’s given to her BEFORE her family joined the cult) in a slightly frenzied state after having attacked a boy. Slowly, it’s revealed that Minnow’s hands where cut off by her father as punishment in the community, and just when she manages to escape there’s also a fire that kills the prophet, aka cult leader. She attacks a boy she perceives as a threat and is convicted and sent to a juvenile facility. What happens after that is rather. . . well, boring and strange.
As Minnow talks to characters throughout the novel, the story of what really happened the night of the fire starts to unravel. Minnow felt like she was supposed to be an unreliable narrator, but I never felt like Oakes really committed to Minnow’s unreliability. She doesn’t really lie or hide, she just evades and drags the story on. To me, that’s not a good unreliable narrator, but a heavy-handed way to keep a story going.
I did like the way the cult was set up, and wish there had been more of it. One thing I liked was the emphasis was that this was not a cult that started as an offshoot of Christianity or a monotheistic religion. I hadn’t really thought of it before, but all the YA cults books I’ve read before definitely lean heavily on Christian influences. The cult in The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is entirely different. They’re Kevinians, and it’s an entirely new religion. I did also like the realism as far as I can tell to how Minnow’s missing hands impact her life, especially in a place like a detention facility. Oakes doesn’t shy away from the horror of how it actually happened and how Minnow adjusts.
Those were the highlights. The main drawback? The dialogue. It felt so, so off all the time. The more I read, the more I kept thinking “Nobody talks like this.” And I don’t mean just Minnow, as that could possibly be explained by her growing up in the Kevinian community. Every other character, from the prosecutors to the fellow inmates to the guards. Despite Minnow’s supposed narrative unreliability, everyone else sure doesn’t seem to have a problem with declaring their motivations and intentions all the time.
I don’t think The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly really hit the mark it aimed for. I did find a lot of promise in the writing, on a structuring level, so I’ll probably give future books by this author a chance. As a debut, though, it felt rough.
There were some cool elements present in The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, from the stark portrayal of how Minnow lost her hands to the new way Oakes dealt with cults, but the rest of the story didn’t stack up for me. 2/5 cupcakes.