When I found out that my second pick of 2015, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (Stephanie Oakes), had also won its bracket to become a kids finalist in the #PSBookoftheYear15 contest, I did a little fist pump and then an Amy Cuddy power pose. And then I realized I would have to sit down and write a blog post in support of ITS candidacy as well!
The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly was a 2016 Morris Award Finalist (awarded to the best young adult debut novels each year, given by the American Library Association). This fact does not in itself make Minnow Bly worthy of your time. But the fact that it is ridiculously AWESOME does.
Minnow Bly was raised in the Kevinian cult until the age of seventeen, when her small rebellions lead to grotesque punishment: the cult leader orders her hands cut off at the wrists. Traumatized and heartbroken, Minnow escapes, entering a larger world she hasn’t seen since she was five years old. When the cult is found burned to the ground and its leader dead, the FBI suspects Minnow of being involved. But Minnow, now trapped in a juvenile detention center, isn’t talking…
Told as a dual narrative split between Minnow’s life in juvie and her past in the cult, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly deals expertly with issues as personal as faith, family, guilt, and loss, and as far-reaching as racism and the deplorable state of the US juvenile detention system. It’s a murder mystery (sort of), but it’s also a story of overcoming impossible circumstances, of questioning one’s teachings, of finding hope after despair. I loved the struggles that Minnow goes through—they feel true and earned. I loved that every character in this book feels real. I loved that Minnow Bly offers no easy answers to complex questions that are so often mishandled.
Stunning is a word I rarely use. This book is stunning. The prose is gorgeous. Minnow Bly’s character is simultaneously haunted and indomitable. The plot drives inexorably toward a shattering conclusion. It’s not a comfortable read, but it’s one that lingers long after the final page has been turned. Highly, highly recommended.