This has been a strange year of reading for me. I have read books...books I have even liked a lot. But nothing that I have really, really loved and adored and couldn't stop thinking about.
And definitely nothing cheery (if you were looking for that kind of thing). Quite possibly my favorite book so far has been When Breath Becomes Air, which is about a person dying from cancer. I've read a whole series about the end of the world, and a couple of books about rape, and one with possibly the saddest ending ever. It seems my reading choices aren't the cheeriest of topics.
I suppose, though, that they never really are. Cheery doesn't usually grab my attention, but The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly did. It tells the story of Minnow, who has escaped from the religious cult she's been living with since she was five or six. Escaped, except her hands have been amputated.
Minnow is put into a young adult detention center for a crime that you get the story about as the novel progresses. A criminal psychologist is assigned to her case, and he makes a deal with her: if she tells him the whole story about what happened to the rest of the cult—how did the fire start that burned down the encampment, how did the leader die—he will give her a positive review when she comes up for parole.
This book had one of my favorite supporting characters in a long time, Angel, who is a long-term detainee in the detention center and likely to graduate straight on to prison. She teaches Minnow not just how to survive in the DT, but in the world at large. Angel has a curious mind, and she loves science and astronomy, the perfect foil to Minnow's long years of a made-up and troublesome religion. It had a demented and terrifying protagonist, the Prophet under whose sway so many people fall. It had disappointing parents who manage, at the last possible moment, to help Minnow instead of punish her. And one character, Jude, whose existence I just couldn't believe in; it seemed improbable to me that a section of mountain woods would hold not just an entire religious community, but a father and his son living in a backwoods cabin, staying off the grid and away from society.
But I still liked this book.
For me, the best part was seeing Minnow realize that if she was going to be saved—from the cult, from her circumstances at the DT—she would have to save herself. Part of this she accomplishes with the knowledge that she's gaining from Angel, about how the world really (literally) works. Part of it is simply her, her courage and her innate sense of...I want to say "goodness," but that isn't exactly it. Minnow wants to do what seems right, even if it is hard, but she's also angry—at her parents, at the Prophet, and the system. I would've liked this far less if she was angelic and forgiving.
This wasn't any easy book to read; the physical punishments in the religious society, as well as the Prophet's downright creepiness, definitely are not cheery. But I am glad I read it; I think Minnow's haunting story will stay with me.