Author: Stephanie Oakes
Rating: 4.5 / 5 stars
I’m going to get my complaining out of the way to start so that I can rave about this novel after. So, to start us off: what in the world is up with this cover. To me, it makes no sense. When we first meet Minnow, we quickly come to realize that instead of hands, her arms end in stubs, which makes it difficult for the police to handcuff her after she wails on this guy. And secondly, the book? For the vast majority of the novel, Minnow is illiterate, which was one of the rules of their “religion”. Only the Prophet is allowed to read, because he is the only one who needs to write down what God tells him. And, okay, I realize the cover may be symbolic, but it does did not sit well with me. I felt like the artist who did the cover art did not even crack this book open.
But, whatever. I am over it, because The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly? Wow. Just wow. There’s nothing exceptional about the prose, and even the plot isn’t mind blowing. It’s the subtle way that Oakes combines all these elements. For one, the novel is largely nonlinear, as we spend the whole novel trying to figure out who is behind the murder of the Prophet and who set their little community on fire. That alone is enough to interest me in a novel, as I love nonlinear mysteries. But then we have Minnow herself, and all the other characters in this novel as well. Again, none of them are slap you in the face fantastic. This novel feels too realistic for that. These characters are flawed, and real. They each have their own personal demons they are running from, or at least are proud about.
And then the underlying topic of the story, Minnow’s backstory, with the cult of the Kevin. I have not, of course, ever joined a cult, but this novel reads like what I would expect if I ever encountered one. It even hits on issues I see with religion as a whole, whether widely accepted or not.
I don’t think there’s really an appropriate way to review this book and explain why it struck such a chord with me. I can only suggest that you pick it up for yourself and give it a try. It will make you queasy at points, it will make you sad. It will even make you question the narrator as well. But it is a remarkable book for being somewhat unremarkable, if that makes any sense. It is definitely one of my favorite books I’ve read this year.