Stephanie Oak’s debut YA novel, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, is beautifully disturbing but also surprisingly hopeful

Stephanie Oak’s debut YA novel, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly, is beautifully disturbing but also surprisingly hopeful

Why isn’t there more buzz about this book?  Everyone should be talking about this book, if only for the premise I couldn’t quite believe – Minnow’s hands are removed by her cult. Say What? Surely it is metaphorical, right.  Uh, no.  Girl gets her hands cut off by the cult leader as punishment.  Crazy.  And crazy good.  Minnow is an intriguing character, and I thoroughly enjoyed her journey.  I’ve read several cult books this year (did you know that was a thing -YA books about coming of age in a cult?) and several fairy tale retellings (I had no idea Grimm could be this grim).  This was by far the best, and if you like a  haunting and beautiful, if disturbing, Bildungsroman, you will have to search long and hard to find one that surpasses this strange little gem. 


Goodreads Summary

 With a harrowing poetic voice, this contemporary page-turner is perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, Julie Berry’s All The Truth That’s in Me, and the works of Ellen Hopkins.

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 Bly is a hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in oneself. 

My Thoughts

Whenever I come across a book that is such a mix of dark and bright, I’m always intrigued, but I found this book and it’s haunting prose particularly impressive for its ability to surprise me at almost every turn.  I didn’t know anything about these characters or the plot, but I managed to make assumptions about everything, all of which the author carefully and thoughtfully disproves time and again. Of course the plot is compelling because Minnow is the only one with all the answers, and she is holding her cards close right up until the end. The author’s true craft, though, is in the narrative, which seamlessly slips between the past and present, building suspense and giving a true reckoning of a girl that isn’t as weak and naive as circumstances would have you initially believe.  Minnow is a character who would be so easy to pity, but she is so much more than the things that have been done to her, and the author succeeded in drawing her as a complex character that lives and breathes beyond the page.  Readers will be horrified as details become clearer, but they won’t doubt for a moment that Minnow is going to survive.  I particularly enjoyed the friendship that formed between her and her hardened teen cell mate.  Their sisterhood is a nice parallel to the twisted sisterhood that failed to protect Minnow when she needed it most. Themes of friendship, forgiveness, revenge and love add real depth to the story, but the biggest message is finding your own truth in a world where others will use their idea of truth to enslave you.  I had never read the Grimm’s fairytale that inspired this book, but when I did, I was pretty awestruck by the brilliance of this reimagining.   I think my high school students will enjoy this book, especially those who enjoyed Julie Berry’s All The Truth That’s in Me and it’s enigmatically silent and haunted narrator.  Adults, too, will find this book hard to put down.  Situations and language make this a book best suited for mature high school readers.

I received an ARC through the Penguin First To Read program in exchange for an honest review.


About queenbook

When the final bell rings, I stash those messy piles of essays and analysis assignments in a desk drawer and I head home to a pile of good books. My kids and dog eat too many chicken nuggets and the house could be neater, but as long as I get my daily read, I guess we are doing all right. When I was twelve and fifteen and eighteen and twenty, I believed I needed to get out there and do those things I had just been reading about, which ended in disaster, tears, a tattoo that scares me every time I catch a glimpse of it in the mirror, and the realization that some of us are meant for action, and some of us are meant to critique the pace of action in a book. I read primarily YA fiction as I have a rather hulking classroom library and a hundred high school readers to engage daily. Nothing makes me happier than coming to school and finding an impatient teenager waiting by my door to turn in a book and get another one just like it. I adore a good zombie, a medieval princess, or girl assassin (I would like them all in one book if you are a writer looking for some inspiration). I add historical mystery to my wish list a year in advance, and you should get out of my way when the next Outlander book comes out. I have an embarrassing fondness for rock star books, but only if they don’t get too trashy and embarrass me. My favorite book of all time is The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. My book boyfriends include Gilbert Blythe, Alonzo Wilder, and Jamie Fraser. They are mine and you can’t have them.

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