banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

BOOK REVIEW: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

| 1 July 2015 | 1 Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

Harper Collins
July 2015
Paperback, $19.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell



The best young adult books challenge you. They make you laugh, they make you cry, but most of all they make you think. For days after you turn the last page, you’ll find your thoughts drifting back to them.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly falls into this category, and will make you realise just how good it is to have hands.

“Do we even need to cuff her?” one cop mutters.
“Look at what she did,” the other insists. “You saw the kid, looked like he’d been run over.”
“But just look at her.”
Look at me. My arms are crossed over my stomach and, at the end of the arms, an absence of hands, of fingers, of nails. Of any way to fight back.

From page one we are thrown into the action, with Minnow standing over a boy she has beaten close to death, about to be arrested. She’s already lost her hands by this point. As the story progresses we learn more and more about her life before this moment, and her life going forward, with the divide between the two becoming more drastic.

One one side of the story, we have Minnow’s time in juvenile detention, with the option of parole when she turns eighteen.

“Today looks like Neon Orange Surprise,” Angel observes.
“Why’s it a surprise?” Rashida asks.
“It tastes like split pea,” I answer. “Angel figures it was some kind of mistake with the dye at the soup factory. But it’s my favorite.”
“I thought your favorite was Puce with Pumpkin?”
“They never give me Puce with Pumpkin anymore.”

We have a doctor from the FBI asking questions about what happened at the Community, but also helping her work through her own thoughts on the situation. Well, he’s trying.

“You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You’re so out of touch, you know that? As if you can relate to a single thing I say. You with your expensive clothes. With your tie clip.”
“My tie clip?” he asks laughingly.
“Nobody who wears a tie clip could possibly understand.”

And we have plenty of moments reminiscent of Orange is the New Black.

I’m only signed up for one class, which meets on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. It’s called Reading Is Power. I didn’t know classes could have names like that, in complete sentences, but all the classes here do, things like “Cooking is Cool” and “Math is Fun.” Angel told me about a group therapy session she’d had once called “Coping Mechanisms Are for Rock Stars!”


On the other side we have her childhood in the Kevinian cult, run by a mad man who inflicted all sorts of cruel and unusual terrors upon his subjects. A man who kept his subjects under thumb through fear.

I knew I must’ve been one of the first to ever leave the Community. The Prophet taught us that our little clearing was protected by God, that if we ever left, the Gentiles would hunt us down with their bullets and heat-seeking missiles and poison gas, that on every telephone pole in every city hung wanted posters with our faces. He said that every Gentile knew the name Minnow Bly, and they cursed it.

A man who had such great power over Minnow’s own father that, even at a young age, she understood where his loyalties resided.

“My baby,” I said.
“No, Minnow, your sister,” my mother corrected in a voice like a croak.
“My baby,” I said again. Nothing belonged to me, not really. My mother belonged to my father and my father belonged to the Prophet. This baby, I knew, was supposed to be mine. She was the closest thing to mine I’d ever had.

A man who held such sway over these people that none of them dared stand up to him when he ordered Minnow’s hands removed from her body. Who was so powerful he made them do the awful deed, lest he get his own hands dirty.

I lifted my arms from where they’d been pinned behind me and saw my stumps for the first time, pulsing blood with each heartbeat, almost black and shining like something lacquered. I couldn’t comprehend what was missing, only that it was something vital and natural and necessary. Something I didn’t even know could be taken from me.

A man who had these people so firmly in the palm of his hand that they gave up the lives they knew in favour of a half-understood “faith”.

“It can help, sometimes, believing in something.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, do you believe people go to a better place when they die? To heaven?”
My father was pulling on his bottom lip. His face was full of extra skin that bagged bluely and made him look tired. “I don’t know, I never asked.”
“Pardon?” the surgeon asked.
“I don’t know if I believe that. I never… I haven’t thought to ask about heaven.”

The scenes set in the cult, and Minnow’s memories growing up, are appalling, gruesome, and truly devastating. You could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all a little hopeless, and also for forgetting that this is fiction. You could almost contemplate putting the book down and taking a break, because you’re not quite sure if you can read that next scene, even though you know you can’t tear your eyes away.

But this is where the crafting of the book is truly magnificent.

There are scenes in this book that will make you feel sick, and make your hands tingle as you imagine yourself in Minnow’s situation; you will feel genuinely discomfited by it at times. But the way that Oakes has interspersed the horrors of the past with dry, sarcastic humour – à la Orange is the New Black – and thrown  some genuine feel-good moments into the mix make this a read unlike any other I have come across.

The writing was beautiful, and the story was brutal but somehow uplifting.

This is a story about finding out who you are, while learning about a world so different from the one the Prophet told you about. This is a story about friendship, having faith in yourself, and doing what needs to be done. This is a story about having to suddenly work out what existence means, after the loss of something you had truly taken for granted.

And, well, it’s a kick up the backside for the rest of us.

If Minnow can keep striving, after being forced to grow up illiterate and recently having her hands stolen from her, then what’s our excuse?

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. NEWS: Steph’s Best (and Worst) reads of 2015 | 100% ROCK MAGAZINE | 16 January 2016

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad