The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

In brief: Minnow is in big trouble. She’s in jail for attacking a stranger, but she still has big secrets about the Community, where she lived with her parents. It’s also the place the Prophet ordered her hands to be cut off…

The good: Minnow is unique and the story is intriguing.

The not-so-good: Took me about 50 pages to really get into it.

Why I chose it: Thank you to Harper Collins YA (aka Between the Covers) for the ARC.

Year: 2015

Pages: 400

Publisher: Harper Collins

Setting: America

My rating: 9 out of 10

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly might be listed as a YA book, but there’s plenty here to keep adult readers (even ones who don’t read heaps of YA) more than entertained. This is a gripping story that combines the downfall of a cult (think Waco) with life in a prison (think Orange is the New Black) with a touch of young love and a sprinkling of hope. For those of you who are familiar with the fairy tale, The Handless Maiden, you’ll also see some similarities brought into this modern story. (If you’re not familiar with the story, like I was, it doesn’t matter at all). Minnow’s story is both harrowing and inspiring as you turn the pages. It’s also intense in the feelings it raises in the reader.

From the opening line, “I am a blood-soaked girl”, you know that this book is going to be no ordinary story. Girls don’t usually find themselves in that kind of situation. But Minnow is different. She’s harmed an innocent man and now she’s going to jail. But jail for Minnow allows her to reconnect with a number of things in the big city – books, reading and people outside the Community. Minnow’s been part of the Community since she was a young girl – she can barely remember life with her parents beforehand. The Community was stifling for her strong will and over a number of interviews, Minnow will reveal some of what happened. Such as how she lost both her hands. But will she tell the truth of everything that lead to the Community’s downfall in a fireball?

After everything, you would think Minnow would be relieved to end up back in regular society, happy to be looked after. But no. Minnow’s going to fight – generally fairly, but occasionally taking advantage to get somewhere, to be who she has always wanted to be. That involves learning how to read and surviving in jail. And just one day, she might find the boy who was left in the woods… Minnow is determined and calculating, but she’s a good person. She’s the type to look after her friends and stand up for what’s right. It’s amazing after everything she’s been through.

It’s amazing that this is Stephanie Oakes’ debut novel. The intensity of the love, hate and loyalty that comes out of Minnow springs off the page and into your heart. One of the reasons I enjoy reading YA is because of the powerful and passionate emotions and this book has it in spades. It’s gripping once you work out a semblance of what has happened to Minnow and are happy to let her drive when and how she will tell you things. The story ends on a note of hope which finished off things just beautifully for me and all the ends are tied up nicely. But it’s the big things that are discussed here, such as religion, faith, obedience and trust, that made this book a stellar read for me. Plus, there’s also the fascination with cults and return to society – could this be the next big thing in YA? I’m happy to jump on that wagon!

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