memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford

I no longer remember how Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford (Little, Brown & Company, 2020) ended up on my TBR, but the library turned out to not have the format I needed for my kindle, so once again, interlibrary loan saved the day!

In her second year at a private Episcopal boarding school in New England, Lacy Crawford is sexually assaulted by two male students. To compound the horror of the situation, she contracts herpes in her throat (deep enough that it’s obvious to medical professionals that there’s no way this could have been consensual), and the school not only learns of this years before Lacy does, they warn other students about her. And when Lacy finally breaks her silence, the school does everything it can to shut her up, including threatening to ruin her reputation by spreading lies about her.

In response, years later, Lacy Crawford wrote this book.

This is one of the bravest books I’ve ever read. It’s tragic, in the way that books are when their authors reveal so much personal pain, but there’s even more tragedy here: Lacy feels obligated to lay out all the details of every sexual encounter she had while at the school- some consensual, others not- in order to not only give a fuller picture of her experiences, but to get ahead of the officials from the school who may have tried to use her sexual history against her (because we all know how that goes. One consensual experience is all it takes to turn a girl or a woman into a raving slut in the eyes of the world. Consent to physical contact with a single man and that means you’re asking for it from everyone. What a disgusting society we’ve created). Women shouldn’t have to go through this in order to be believed, but Lacy knows exactly what she’s up against and bares her soul and her past in a raw, open way on these pages.

This is an emotionally difficult read, but it’s a story that will be familiar to every woman out there (men, I need you to step up and read this book and realize what we go through, what we’re subject to, what your daughters and sisters and mother and friends have lived under the shadow of our entire lives). The school officials threatening Lacy and passing along her private medical information- that SHE hadn’t even been told of- to the student body. The nastiness of the student body. Lacy’s desperation to reclaim some sort of agency over her life and her body. People constantly bringing up the STD Lacy contracted from the assault to her, decades later (on what PLANET is that an okay subject to broach with anyone but your closest friends who have made it known that this is acceptable to discuss?????) The way the school handled this is both utterly horrifying and humdrum at the same time- humdrum because this is how things work in this world. Men are allowed to hurt us, assault us, affect us, and walk free, and we shoulder the blame, the guilt, the costs.

Good for Lacy Crawford for finding her voice and shouting from the rooftops about the cesspool behind the administration at St. Paul’s of Concord, New Hampshire. It’s long past time that women started speaking out about the wrongs done to us and about the many ways these institutions will throw us under the bus in the scramble to protect their own reputation. The language used in this book is powerful and damning, and I’m in awe of Ms. Crawford’s bravery. If you have the emotional bandwidth of this book, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the finest examples of strength and bravery I’ve ever read.

Visit Lacy Crawford’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

fiction

Book Review: Invisible City (Rebekah Roberts #1) by Julia Dahl

I *think* Invisible City (Rebekah Roberts #1) by Julia Dahl (Minotaur Books, 2014) ended up on my list during the time I searched for Jewish books in my library’s digital card catalog, but I could be wrong. I’m a member of a few different book groups on Facebook, so it could have come from there. Either way, it ended up on my list as an ebook, and I dragged my feet long enough that my library no longer had it listed as an ebook. Bummer! (And I’ve got a new attitude about how quickly I’ll get to ebooks on my list.) Interlibrary loan to the rescue!

Rebekah Roberts is a young reporter on the beat in New York City for one of the city’s rattiest tabloids. She’s the daughter of a Christian father (who raised her) and a Hasidic mother (who split and returned to her community not long after Rebekah’s birth, leaving Rebekah angry and bitter and confused), and when she’s assigned to the story about a dead body discovered in a scrapyard, she’s on it…and is even more intrigued when she finds out the victim was a young Hasidic mother, and the scrapyard is Hasidic-owned.

The police’s chummy relationship with the Hasidic community means the investigation barely gets off the ground, and thanks to a friend of her father’s, Rebekah finds herself deep in the search for the truth. What happened to Rivka that she ended up dangling from a crane in a scrapyard? What did her insular community have to do with the circumstances that led to her death? And what does all of this have to do with Rebekah and her mother?

I have mixed feelings about this one. I don’t read a ton of thrillers and crime novels (and I’m absolute garbage at figuring out whodunit), but I tend to enjoy most of the ones I do read. I enjoyed the pacing of this story; it moved quickly but without keeping me anxious and on the edge of my seat, which I can’t stand. The writing was fine; I didn’t find it anything phenomenal, but it was readable without having to think too deeply, which I appreciate. I’m not much of a literary fiction reader; when I dive into fiction, I’m doing it to be entertained, not to discuss the themes of the book with a group of professors at a wine and cheese party.

The setting was interesting. There aren’t a ton of novels out there set among the Hasidic community, so that felt fresh, but Rebekah’s lack of curiosity about the Judaism she inherited from her mother was a bit irritating to me. Her anger at her mother was understandable, but her almost complete lack of knowledge (despite her dad being some sort of religious scholar), felt…off.

What didn’t work for me was the disrespect I felt towards multiple groups in this book. Let’s start with the Hasidic Jewish community. These are people living their lives in the way they think is best. I disagree with a lot of what they believe and teach, but they’re still my people, and it irks me a bit to see them placed in such a fishbowl. There are many, many problems in the community (as happens in every insular group out there), but to me, this felt like all those books setting romances and thrillers in the Amish community: exploitative. It felt more to me like this community was the setting for a grisly murder of a young mother more for the shock value than anything, and that bothered me. Especially since this is a series and there’s another Hasidic murder in the next book. This bothered me a lot as I got deeper into the book.

Secondly, the constant use of mental illness as a reason for violence really bothered me. I’m not saying that the Hasidic community does a great job dealing with mental illness; from what I’ve read, a lot gets swept under the rug for fear of making families look bad and ruining chances of children making good marriages (sigh). But mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of serious crimes than to be the ones committing them, and perpetuating this stereotype that mentally ill people are often violent and go around constantly murdering people…nope. Didn’t like that one bit. And there’s a LOT of references to mental illness in this book that didn’t quite hit the mark for me as a respectful, thoughtful way to discuss these conditions, even in a community who doesn’t necessarily have a perfect track record in how they handle it.

So this book had its ups and downs for me. I likely won’t continue on with the series, though I am curious what happens if/when Rebekah makes contact with her mother. If you’ve read the series, feel free to spoil this for me in the comments. ; )

Visit Julia Dahl’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood by Mark Oppenheimer

As soon as I heard that Mark Oppenheimer was writing a book about the Squirrel Hill synagogue shooting, I added the book to my want-to-read list. This horrible even happened before my conversion, but converting had been something I’d been considering many, many years prior. I was sitting in the waiting area of my daughter’s gymnastics class that Saturday when my phone started buzzing and the news that a shooting had happened in a Pittsburgh synagogue began to fill my news feed. As I have a friend who lives in the area, I went to her Facebook page and began frantically refreshing her feed, trying to ascertain whether she was safe or not (she was; Tree of Life was not her congregation). And as I did that, a little voice in my brain said, “What about now? Still want to convert?” And the immediate answer was, “Absolutely. These are my people.” It took a little longer, but I made it happen, and it still hurts to read about this tragedy. Someone from my congregation lost family because of this shooting. The Jewish community is close-knit and well-connected with each other, and we’re all still feeling this. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood (Knopf Publishing Group, 2021) is a beautiful testament to the strength of community and how a neighborhood and the greater community can come together in the wake of tragedy.

In the morning of October 27, 2018, a man walked into the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha congregation (which also housed two other congregations, Dor Hadash and New Light Congregation) and gunned down eleven Jews, injuring six more, and traumatizing all the rest. The focus of this book isn’t on what happened during the shooting, but rather, what happened afterwards, because there’s no need to glorify the killer or focus on the line of thinking that brought him to this point. Mark Oppenheimer’s family lived in Squirrel Hill for many generations; it’s a heavily Jewish area that is very close-knit, and the book delves into the beauty of recovery, of neighbors helping neighbors, of the wider world lending a hand and stepping in to help dry the tears of a hurting people.

People traveled from multiple faraway states with therapy dogs, homemade memorials, and more. The local firefighters memorialized one of the victims who always stopped by the firehouse for a chat. People came to prepare food for the victims’ families, borrowing another synagogue’s kitchen to ensure that the food would be kosher. Public art began appearing in support of the local Jewish community, most notably in a Starbucks window, where it can still be viewed today. Not everything was easy to take; a young Black woman expressed distress that when her people are shot and killed, no one shows up like this (and her distress is entirely understandable and this needs to change); just like at Mother Emanuel, the AME church in Charleston where nine Black worshippers were murdered, trauma tourists came by to ogle the site; a local newspaper editor lost his job after his bold decision to use the first few words of the Mourner’s Kaddish (a prayer recited for the dead, which has no mention of death in it) as a headline. But Squirrel Hill is a special place, and the way the community came together after this nightmare will show you exactly how special it is.

It takes a special writer to make me want to pack up and travel anywhere; Maeve Binchy does it with her novels about Ireland, and Mark Oppenheimer has done it with this book. From a terrible, unthinkable crime sprang a community’s love and support, and that’s about the best you can hope for when so many are suffering. He manages to both respect individual grief and trauma while composing a love letter to his ancestral neighborhood, amplifying the good that they shouldn’t have had to engage in but still chose to.

Security has always been tight at all the synagogues I’ve been to; I can imagine that this has only increased worldwide in the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre. Several police officers are on guard outside every service we have; the doors are always locked and you have to be buzzed in (or know the code); if you’re going somewhere new, it’s considered good form to call first and let them know you’re coming, so they’re not alarmed by the presence of a new person at services. It’s an absolute shame, but not surprising, and Squirrel Hill will show you exactly why all of this is necessary.

This is a sad, but lovely book, one that I highly recommend.

Visit Mark Oppenheimer’s website here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

memoir · nonfiction

Book Review: A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

I was 18 when the massacre at Columbine happened, just under a year after having graduated from high school myself. I remember waking up that day and hearing the news and being shocked and horrified, and as the news continued to filter in over the next few weeks, I grieved not just for the victims and their families, but for the families of the perpetrators. What must their parents be feeling at that moment? Not only had they lost their children to suicide, those children had died in the most horrific (for the surviving parents) manner possible- purposefully taking others out with them. My heart ached badly for those parents, and over the years, I wondered how they were doing. A few years ago, I learned that Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan, had written a book, entitled A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy (Crown, 2016). I immediately knew I wanted to read it (though I never formally added it to my TBR). On my last trip to the library, as I was grabbing a different book, her book was right in front of me on the shelf. I took it as a sign and put it into my bag.

Think back to when you were a teenager. How open were you with your parents? Did you inform them of the times you suffered from debilitating depression? Did you let them know about what was going on with your friend groups at all times? How many times did you spill the beans about what went on at those parties you went to? Did they really know the truth about all your friends? Teenagers hide a lot from their parents; it’s mostly developmentally normal, a way that they can begin to separate themselves from their parents and begin to form their full adult selves. And teens get really good at hiding things- I know I was- so much so that even the most attentive parents can miss major things. Such was the case for Sue Klebold and her husband Tom, who had begun to notice Dylan seeming a little distant just before the massacre, and who had plans to sit down and talk to him, but tragedy struck too soon.

In the aftermath of Columbine, Sue struggled greatly, unsure of how to process the fact that this child whom she had loved so very much, who had rarely given them any trouble and who seemed to be looking forward to a future at college, had murdered so many of his fellow classmates before turning the gun on himself. How had she not seen the signs? How could she ever possibly atone for the damage her son had caused the community? In her fog of grief, Sue began speaking with therapists, academics, brain health professionals, people who study violence and mass shootings, trying to find answers. Some, she found; others are questions that will remain unanswered forever.

This is a heavy memoir of the deep-seated grief of a mother who has lost her youngest son in one of the worst ways imaginable. It’s bad enough to lose a child; to lose a child who has killed others before killing himself, shattering everything you thought you knew not only about him but about your family and yourself as a parent, is a source of never-ending trauma. Sue Klebold has poured out her heart, soul, pain, grief, and desperate love for a son who committed heinous acts on these pages. You don’t stop loving your child when they do something terrible, but it takes a lot of mental readjustment to incorporate that into your understanding of that child. This book demonstrates the unthinkable difficulty of how to continue on after a nightmare comes to life, and it does so with grace and dignity.

My heart broke over and over for the Klebolds throughout this book: for their pain, for their loss, for the realization that they misinterpreted the signs that something was wrong, and for their gradual understanding that there’s not always a failproof way to prevent these things (look at how difficult it is to get any kind of mental health help; Ms Klebold mentions that Eric Harris, the other Columbine shooter, had been receiving help). It’s not always or maybe even often about how children are parented- how many families can you think of where one sibling has major problems like drugs or crime and the rest of the siblings live normal lives?

So much grief and guilt on every page of this book. I truly hope that Ms. Klebold has been able to find some modicum of peace. I know she’ll never stop loving and missing her son and questioning why- why him, why her, why their family, but I truly, truly hope she’s been able to find peace after such a terrible, terrible loss and painful aftermath.

nonfiction

Book Review: Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era

I didn’t know that this would end up being such a timely read.

Civil rights are a cause that’s near and dear to my heart. Everyone deserves the full rights of citizenship in the country of their birth or the country they’ve adopted as their own, and the fact that America still hasn’t managed to get it together in this aspect and is actively trying to move backwards is a filthy stain on our collective soul. But there are people out there fighting to right these wrongs (Stacey Abrams, you are an absolute jewel!), and some of them write books about their experiences. When I heard about Race Against Time: A Reporter Reopens the Unsolved Murder Cases of the Civil Rights Era by Jerry Mitchell (Simon & Schuster, 2020), I knew I had to read it. Bless my library for having a copy on their shelves.

During the 1960s, white supremacists decided that their right to feel special was more important than anyone’s civil rights or right to live, so instead of getting some therapy and examining why they felt that way, they decided that murder was the answer. Members of the Ku Klux Klan plotted, planned, and carried out the murders of white and black civil rights workers, along with everyday people- including children- who were just living their lives. And far, far too often, the perpetrators and the planners of these murders walked free, even when they bragged about what they’d done to everyone with functioning eardrums. Even when some of them were Christian clergy. Think about that.

Jerry Mitchell, an investigative journalist working for Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger, knew that there were plenty of wrongs that needed to be righted, so he set about unlocking the clues to the past. Interviewing family members of the victims, former and current KKK members, and anyone who had anything to do with these cases where justice wasn’t served, he began to help the state piece together legal cases against the alleged killers. It wasn’t easy; so many witnesses had already died, more were suffering from diseases of old age, and the ones who were still full of life made Mr. Mitchell acutely aware that his life was as expendable as those of their earlier victims. But with his well-honed journalist skills and a deep-seated sense of justice and integrity, with well-timed articles that brought crucial and long-buried information to light, Jerry Mitchell aided in the prosecution of some of the dirtiest murderers of the Civil Rights era.

This is really an incredible book. Mr. Mitchell’s dedication is deeply admirable, and his bravery is oftentimes both commendable and shocking. I can’t ever imagine a situation in which I would feel even remotely safe traveling to and going inside Byron de la Beckwith’s house (he was the man who murdered Medgar Evers), but Mr. Mitchell did. He repeatedly made contact with various people whose pasts were infuriating and frightening, who said disgusting things in his presence. Some of them had since reformed and expressed regret over their actions. Many had not, and yet Jerry Mitchell still persevered in order to get the information necessary to pen the articles that would change everything.

He’s quick to point out that he failed more times than he won, that there are still plenty of cold cases where justice was not served and where the families of the victims never received any kind of closure. But the cases he was instrumental in helping bring to court- the murder of Medgar Evers, the murder of the three civil rights workers portrayed in the movie Mississippi Burning, the murder of the four little girls in the 16th Street church bombing, and the murder of civil rights worker Vernon Dahmer- were high-profile, and while individual cases don’t make up for the lack of justice overall, the conviction of these killers is deeply satisfying. Mr. Mitchell tells the story of his work in these cases in a fast-paced read that will keep you racing through the pages in order to learn the final verdicts of each case and how they were reached.

An excellent book, and so timely for today. May we all be Jerry Mitchells in our pursuit of justice, every single day.

Visit Jerry Mitchell’s organization, the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting here.

Follow him on Twitter here.

nonfiction

Book Review: The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South by Chip Jones

The US has a terrible past (and present) in regards to racism. Scratch the surface of just about any topic and you’ll reveal its racist roots- it’s an unfortunately truth, because things didn’t have to be things way, but we let it, and the only way to change things going forward is to confront what we’ve been and resolve not to be that again. The history of medical research leading up to the miracle of modern organ transplantation is no different, and after discovering The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in the Segregated South by Chip Jones (Gallery/Jeter Publishing, 2020) in a Book Riot email, I knew I had to read it. Onto my TBR it went.

In 1968, William Tucker, a Black man from Virginia got a received a strange phone call about his brother Bruce- something about his being in the hospital, and a bizarre comment about them taking his heart. After scrambling for information that no one seemed to want to provide, William learned that Bruce had died following a head injury. The hospital had never contacted anyone from the family, despite William’s business card with his phone number being in Bruce’s wallet upon his arrival at the hospital, and stranger still, they had removed his heart and kidneys without permission in order to use them for transplants, a new and still very much experimental procedure at this time. William was horrified at this desecration of his brother’s body and contacted a lawyer.

But medical experiments (often ones that lead to groundbreaking research and treatments) have a deeply racist history in the US; the progress medical science has made has often been built on brown and Black backs and bodies, quite often without their consent. Chip Jones delves into the history of Black grave robbing by medical schools for research purposes and how that led to William Tucker’s missing organs. His case went to court, and the outcome ultimately led to a change in legislation when it comes to organ donation and consent, but the history is there and cannot be erased, nor should it be hidden. The Organ Thieves shines a light on a subject a lot of people most likely know very little about.

Organ transplants have featured heavily in the books I’ve read throughout my life. In the 80s and 90s when I was growing up, I read Why Me? by Deborah Kent (about an adopted teenager who receives a donated kidney from her biological mother) over and over again, and plowed through a ton of Lurlene McDaniel’s medical dramas for young adults, which often featured teenagers who were awaiting donated organs. And of course there was Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, and recently, Rachel Solomon’s Our Year of Maybe. But I never really knew the history of transplantation, the many failures and deaths it took to get to the place where receiving a donated organ meant a new lease on life, the difficulties doctors first had in recognizing the symptoms of rejection, and what this all meant for Black patients. They were aware of the grave robbing and knew this would have bigger implications, and unfortunately, this proved to be true. And all of this and more (such as history of the Tuskegee study) has led to the hesitancy of Black people in taking the Covid-19 vaccine. History never dies; its consequences ring throughout time like the loudest of bells.

There’s even more racist medical history that Mr. Jones doesn’t touch (the history of gynecology is utterly horrifying), but what he does cover is bad enough. The trial that covered the removal of Bruce Tucker’s organs without family consent is a complex read; the trial itself raised many questions and led to necessary changes in legislation, but at a heavy emotional cost for the Tucker family and the many others who came before them. So much of our progress as a society- maybe all of it- has been made at the expense of others.

At times, the story gets just the tiniest bit dry, but The Organ Thieves is so important that pushing on through is necessary and rewarding- you’ll be better informed, a better ally, better at knowing what shouldn’t be. If you’ve ever read or watched a medical thriller or drama and enjoyed it, or benefited from organ transplants or medical research that came from corpses dug up in the dead of night (and this is probably everyone), this is a book you should be aware of. We owe those unnamed people and Bruce Tucker that much.

Visit Chip Jones’s website here.

nonfiction

Book Review: Broken Faith: Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults by Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr

Cults! Cults, cults, cults! This is probably my longest-running fascination. I put in for Broken Faith: Inside the Word of Faith Fellowship, One of America’s Most Dangerous Cults by Mitch Weiss and Holbrook Mohr (Hanover Square Press, 2020) on NetGalley but was rejected (no biggie; you win some, you lose some!), but it went onto my TBR anyway. I hadn’t heard of Word of Faith Fellowship before, so immediately I was deeply intrigued and neeeeeeeeeeeeeeded to know more!

Journalist Mitch Weiss has written a stunning exposé on the Word of Faith Fellowship, a church out of Spindale, North Carolina, that consumes every last moment of its members’ lives. You can’t just show up for a church service; you have to be invited (that alone should tip people off). WOFF is run by Jane Whaley, a charismatic, power-hungry woman who seeks to control the lives of her church members and live high on the hog on their tithes, while they struggle to give more and more. Church tactics include screaming in the faces of and beating members, even infants and small children, to release all the demons that plague them, tying them to chairs, locking them away for months at a time in what amounts to prisons on the church property, stealing members’ children, and making it nearly impossible for members to leave.

What’s worse is the local government is fully involved in protecting the church and has, for decades, turned a blind eye to the abuse of the children in the cult. Members have tried for years to get justice for the many, many ways the cult has wronged them, only to be given the runaround by the police and the local court system. Hopefully with the publication of this book, more people will be aware of the shocking manipulations of this cult and the way it controls its members and the county it’s located in.

This is an absolutely shocking book. Mitch Weiss interviewed over 100 former church members to construct this narrative, as well as seeking out court documents, including a 300+ page document that had never before been released prior to his research. Despite damning evidence of the abuse of the members children (including sexual abuse- the mentions are brief, but they’re in here, so be alert if this is a difficult subject for you to read about), the county opted to tie the hands of social services and leave the children there to be further abused. I’m not going to lie; reading this is chilling. It’s yet another account of how cheap life is here in the United States and how little the lives of everyday people matter. The odds are stacked against us all, and if you’ve got money, you’re free to do as much harm as you want to anyone you want, because money is power.

Multiple times, Weiss and Mohr illustrate, usually through the words of authorities, how difficult it is for former cult members to receive justice: cults keep such tight control over their members that when they do manage to escape, they’re often ill-prepared to live in the outside world, plagued with anxiety and PTSD, and they end up homeless and addicted to various substances as a means of coping- rending them, in the eyes of legal authorities and juries, unreliable as witnesses. And thus cults such as WOFF are allowed to carry on their dangerous, abusive tactics. Members of the church have been convicted of various forms of fraud on the church’s behalf (including unemployment fraud and mail fraud), but Jane Whaley has never been brought up on charges herself.

If reading about cults interests you, you won’t want to miss this. Jane Whaley and her sycophants are dangerous and I’m glad the floodlights are being turned onto the church. I hope this helps its victims receive justice and that more people are sympathetic to what they’ve suffered at the hands of this evil, evil institution.

Follow Mitch Weiss on Twitter here.

fiction

My Sister, the Serial Killer- Oyinkan Braithwaite

And back to the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge! One of their prompts is for a book you meant to read in 2019, and…really, that could apply to a lot of books, but the one that really stuck out in my mind was My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Doubleday Books, 2018). This book made the rounds of the blogs last year and I always wanted to read it, but the only time I came across it in the library, I was already so backed up with books that I knew I’d never get to it if I took it home at that time. So on the shelf it stayed, until my final pre-COVID-19-shutdown trip to the library, where I grabbed it and stashed it in my stack (I still have three books left to read…and like an entire library of books on my own shelves, shhhhhh).

A phone call from Korede’s beautiful younger sister Ayoola more than likely means trouble, and three times now that has proven to be true. Three bodies that Korede has helped move, three clean-ups that she’s now participated in, three dead boyfriends is the number that officially makes her sister a serial killer. But what’s a big sister to do? Protecting her little sister has always been her job…even now, when she doesn’t understand why her sister keeps killing the men she dates.

Korede takes solace in her job as a nurse, unburdening herself to a comatose patient and attempting to begin a romance with her handsome doctor co-worker Tade. Just when it seems like things are beginning to take root, Ayoola shows up at Korede’s work and it only takes one glance from Tade before his gaze is permanently fixed on Ayoola. Korede is not only bitterly hurt, but concerned for Tade’s safety. When her comatose patient awakens with full knowledge of the assistance Korede has given her sister and Tade reveals his plan to propose to Ayoola, things look dire, but there’s more than one inevitable conclusion to this dark story.

My Sister, the Serial Killer was definitely worth the wait. I loved everything about it- the setting (I have a map of the world with little magnetic ‘pins’ hanging on my wall, and I place a pin in the countries where a book I read is set. I was thrilled to be able to place one in Nigeria for this book, which brings me up to 13 different countries so far this year, not counting the US); Korede’s stoic support of her sister, even through her disapproval; Ayoola’s arrogance and narcissism- what a frustrating character!; Tade’s complete buffoonery when it comes to Ayoola; the comatose patient’s reawakening; the very premise itself! Not only is there a female serial killer, she’s young and arrogant enough to assume her sister will always be there to cover up her crimes for her. This is one fascinatingly dark story!

I had some inkling of how the story would end when I spotted the original Nigerian title in the copyright info (you can see it on Goodreads; I won’t post it here in case any of my readers are about to read this book!), and it did ultimately play out in the way I suspected it would, but it was still absolutely worth every second of the read. It’s dark, but not heavy, and it made for a surprisingly fun read, if you can call a book about a serially murdering sister fun. It would make for a fun summer beach read, if you’re lucky enough to be able to read on the beach and not, say, worry your child is going to drown the second she steps off the towel. *laughs nervously*

Have you read and enjoyed this? I’ve heard a few people say it was too dark for them; for me, it was just dark enough, the kind that made me kind of laugh at how terrible Korede’s situation was, like, “GIRL! NO! Don’t help her, just run and change your entire identity!” I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book!

Visit Oyinkan Braithwaite’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

memoir

The Polygamist’s Daughter- Anna LeBaron

Ahh, the joy of reading on my new Kindle, the latest paperwhite version that replaces my original Kindle Keyboard, which had been giving me problems for a year or so, constantly restarting on its own out of nowhere. (#readerproblems, amirite???) This new one is lovely, and the reading experience is divine. I feel like I will miss the buttons on the side in the winter; I loved how I could keep my hands under a blanket or in my sweatshirt sleeves and still turn pages, but at least I’ll still be able to only poke a single fingertip out and still read, right? (#winterreaderproblems) While The Polygamist’s Daughter by Anna LeBaron with Leslie Wilson (Tyndale House Publishers, 2017) wasn’t the first book I’ve read on my new Kindle, the experience is still pretty novel. 🙂

Anna LeBaron, whose first name is pronounced like Anna in Disney’s Frozen, grew up as a member of a polygamous cult that broke away from the traditional LDS church. If you’ve read anything about these groups before, you’ll recognize her last name as belonging to the group depicted in Jon Krakauer’s stunning work of nonfiction, Under the Banner of Heaven . The LeBaron group has been plagued by murderous leaders and followers who are all too happy to aid them. Anna is the daughter of Ervil LeBaron, who died in prison when Anna was still young. Her father, was, of course, polygamous; Anna has over fifty siblings and barely ever spent any time with him before he died.

Her family was often on the run from authorities for one reason or another, so Anna was regularly with a few siblings in the care of adults other than her mother for long periods of time, often with less-than-spectacular results. She was horrified to learn that she’d been promised to the husband of one couple she’d been staying with (whose wife treated her terribly) as soon as she came of age, and there are some creepy grooming scenes in here. Despite being surrounded by so many people, Anna grew up feeling alone, and when her mother makes plans to send her back to the creepy grooming husband/mistreating wife couple in Mexico, Anna decides to make a break for it and it’s in living with her sister and her husband that her real life outside the cult begins.

Anna’s story is fairly typical for ones coming out of this particular cult, though she chooses not to focus on the rampant hunger that so many of the other former members say plagued their childhood. She joins a Christian church after leaving her mother, but this is presented in a way that implies it’s just part of her story; there’s no proselytizing, which I appreciated. Anna doesn’t seem to be terribly aware of the more dangerous elements of her family’s religious group, at least not when she’s younger (this changes when she moves in with her sister and her sister’s husband, and especially after tragedy strikes), which gives her an interesting perspective towards members of her group who had carried out Ervil LeBaron’s demands for murder. To her, these people were not the murderous monsters who had caused a human being’s death, but the people who loved her and cared for her during her childhood. How she was able to maintain that perspective baffled me a little bit; Anna doesn’t seem at all naive, so perhaps it’s just a matter of wanting to see the good side of the people you have left.

Not at all a bad book; Anna is obviously an intensely brave woman who has been through an enormous amount of trauma and yet managed to make a healthy life for herself on the outside. She’s a great example of resiliency and determination, if you’re needing more of that from your reading, and if you’re looking for another peek into the LeBaron group, it’s a great book for that, too.

Visit Anna LeBaron’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.