Jun 21, 2015

Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

TitleThe Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Author: Stephanie Oakes
Publisher: Dial Books
Publishing Date: June 9, 2015
Pages/Format: 400, ARC
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A hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faith—and the power of having faith in yourself

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.

Gorgeously written, breathlessly page-turning and sprinkled with moments of unexpected humor, this harrowing debut is perfect for readers of Emily Murdoch's If You Find Me and Nova Ren Suma's The Walls Around Us , as well as for fans of Orange is the New Black.

Book in One Word: Lackluster.

When I first heard about The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly--the cover and title caught my eye--I was intrigued. I think stories about cults are super interesting (like Escape from Eden), and I thought this one sounded deliciously dark. So I was awfully excited to have a copy of my own, and I wanted so badly to read it early but I am always behind on my TBR. And then I read it, really thinking I would love it, and, well...I didn't.

(This paragraph might be kind of spoilery for plot points in Minnow Bly, so if you want to avoid them, skip to the next paragraph.) The thing about cult stories (at least what I've read and seen, like, say, that one episode of Criminal Minds, or Lifetime's Escape from Polygamy) is that they tend to have similar story lines: someone starts to disagree with the way things are or doesn't believe in all of it, the leader/prophet appears to be shady and probably wants to marry someone who's really young and really doesn't want to marry him, crazy things happen, and so on and so forth. While The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly did have originality in its story, I wasn't shocked by much. (Though Minnow being handless is a huge twist and very unique and original, and I guess this is a retelling of "The Handless Maiden," which I know nothing about.) Throughout the story there was this element of mystery as Minnow slowly unravels what happened to her Kevinian cult, and I was expecting some big, shocking reveals. But then we'd get the reveals, and I wouldn't be very shocked. Like, that's it? That's the big deal? I didn't think it was a big deal at all and I wasn't very shocked. (Also, spoilery side note, but, well...I wonder about contraceptives for some of these characters. I don't really think some of them had it on hand--a problem in a lot of books--but I'm wondering if the stunted growth some of the characters had may be a part of why there was a lack of pregnancies?)

I wouldn't, however, really say I had a problem with The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. I was so sure I would end up loving it, and so many reviews were just raving about it, but I wouldn't say that it was very hyped, for myself or overall? I do think that I may have liked it more had I read it at a different time. I started it during the end of the quarter and right around finals week, so I never really had time to just sit down and devour it, even when I wanted to. It took away that whole "I want to read this" element, and I think that took its toll on the book. All that said, this certainly is not a bad book: it's actually really good, and I definitely liked it, but after reading it I just don't feel much, and again, I think I was just expecting more from certain plot points: Minnow already doesn't have hands, don't be afraid to go dark and fucking surprise the hell out of me. But there was something that this book--and Stephanie Oakes--did very well: the writing. I kid you not, I could probably pull a quote from every single page. It was very well-written, and I would definitely read something else from Stephanie Oakes, even though I didn't love her debut.

I guess you could say that I'm a little disappointed in The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. This just sounded like the kind of deliciously dark and gritty novel I would love and want to hold and treasure, and I was sure I would. But I didn't and I don't, and that's kind of sucky. I just don't feel much after reading it, except--oh, yeah, THAT ENDING. That was way, way too open-ended for my tastes, and maybe it's different in the finished copy but seriously? There were a lot of reveals and possibilities for bangin' booms that were missed opportunities (seriously, why were some things such a big deal for Minnow?) and I think that's one of the big reasons why I just didn't love this or really like it. (Also, there was this one scene and I don't know if it was a hallucination or what the endgame was for those two characters but now that I remember I WANT TO KNOW.) I can definitely recognize--and other reviews have shown--that it's a good novel, and again, it's really well-written--minus the execution, a bit. A novel about a girl who lived in a cult and had her hands chopped off and met a boy in the woods in secret was so, so interesting, and I'm just bummed the story didn't have enough of a bang to make me love it.

Did I like it? Yes.
Did I love it? No.
Would I reread it? Not likely.
Would I purchase it? I will be for a signing, but otherwise I'm--sigh--not itching to get this on my shelves anytime soon.
Who would I recommend it to? If you like stories with unique elements--a protagonist whose hands were chopped off--an interesting romance, and that center around cults--and also, books with really good writing--then voila, this is for you.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, and that in no way sways my opinion of the book.


  1. Bummer, sorry to hear you didn't like the book as much as you imagined. I've been hearing so many good things about this title, but hype can ruin a book.

    The completionist in me do not like open ended endings haha.

  2. My adult book group just read this and my feelings were very similar to yours. As I read, the lack of pregnancies from the Prophet's wives made me wonder if there would be some reveal about him being infertile or sick, which surely would be a hit to him as a so-called prophet and representative of God. Like a lot of elements in the story, I felt like that's just something else that left the readers hanging in limbo. The whole thing just felt unfinished to me.


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