Review || The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly – Stephanie Oakes

Disturbing | Horrifying | Beautiful

“I am a blood soaked girl.”

This is a tale of horror, desperation…but also hope. The story follows seventeen-year-old Minnow Bly, a girl who was raised by a secret religious cult that existed outside the rules and norms of society. They took everything from her: her family, a chance at a normal life…and also her hands.

One day, their camps were engulfed in flames and the Prophet was murdered. Taking this chance to finally escape, Minnow flees the site only to come across a young boy whom she viciously attacked. Who killed the Prophet? How did Minnow lose her hands? And what led her to end up in a juvenile detention? The answers are slowly revealed through flashbacks as she recounts her story to an FBI detective. Because Minnow could only have her chance for freedom if she was willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

I came across this book by chance, lured in by its beautiful cover and trapped by its intriguing synopsis. It is a magnificent and tragic story about a young girl with a horrific past, who finally starts to learn the truth about her life and to ultimately get to think for herself. It is the kind of book that hooks you in and keeps you on the edge of your seat, making your heartbeat lose every semblance of control. It also makes you think on a much deeper level about faith, discrimination and justice.

“Anger is a kind of murder you commit in your heart.” If this is true, I’m a daily murderer. My heart is more full of blood than I ever imagined.”

 In a way you could say that the book has no introduction. The main story takes place before the very first line and you cannot help but read on to find an answer to the whats and whys that haunt you with every word. You are instantly plunged into the turmoil of Minnow’s life and this added a new level of intrigue and anticipation for the reader. The very first sentence emanates a darkness that pervades through the rest of the story and while it is not really fast-paced, there is a feeling of foreboding and trepidation in every single sentence that added a sense of urgency to it.

I have never read a book about religious cults before and this was quite disturbing to read at times. The author managed to describe religious fanaticism so perfectly through her flawless imagery and leaves you with this unsettling feeling throughout the whole novel. It is frightening to see people blindly following a person without ever doubting his ways or motives. They accepted his answers to their questions without a second thought because they wanted to believe in something, even if they were all lies. What makes this even more horrifying was the way these lies poisoned their minds and robbed them of their own free will. They demonstrated their ‘fate’ in the most perverse way, crossing boundaries they never thought they would cross, ridiculing human life in the most revolting way. And sadly, such things do exist in real life even if we don’t hear about them that often.

“I guess people can’t be content without answers, even if they’re wrong. We’d rather have a lie than a question that we can never know the answer to.”

 The sexism in the community is horrendous and I appreciate the way the author addressed this issue in such a raw and open way. I think it is tremendously important to bring to light the reality of this situation even in fiction books. Women lacked any sort of purpose, except to marry and have children; a notion that was quite synonymous a few years ago and still is in certain countries. They had no voice to rebel this belief and mostly agreed to it because that is what ‘God’ wanted from them…or so they were led to believe. Isolated from the world, they were forced to marry at a very young age without their consent, beaten senseless with the slightest insubordination and never allowed to read or touch a single book. Relieving these memories was a harrowing experience for Minnow, but at the same time necessary for her in order to realise the truth about the world and heal the wounds of her past.

Minnow is such a wonderful character and her growth throughout the book was both heart breaking and beautiful because in order for her to move forward she had to recount the horrors of her past that was akin to experiencing them all over again. However this proved how strong she really is, strong enough to face her past and ultimately learning to make her own decisions about what to believe in, something she was hindered from doing in the cult. The first person narrative brings to life Minnow’s voice, a voice so honest and powerful. Her words are honestly arresting and demand to be heard. She also sounds quite mature for her age, I guess both the result of her upbringing and the terrors that she had experienced.

“That’s how you avoid becoming a moth,” he says. “Stop asking others what to believe. Figure it out for yourself.”

 I cannot fail from mentioning Angel as well because she is a perfect example of morality and justice in this book. Angel has a history of family abuse and was sent to juvenile detention for murdering her own uncle. On the outset this might seem like a reasonable outcome however the author makes you dig so much deeper than that. It makes you question the morality of their crimes and whether their actions are justifiable considering it was an act of self-defence. It makes you wonder how these girls were put behind bars while their abuser might still be roaming free outside.

There is romance in this book but not the kind that overshadows the main plot. It is beautiful and quite refreshing, giving the reader a pause from the horrifying scenes. In my opinion, the relationship between Jude and Minnow is extremely important not only because it is beautiful in it’s purest sense, but also because it breaks the barrier of racism that the cult sowed in it’s people. Two people of different colour fall in love and it is beautiful and genuine. A  beautiful flower amongst the surrounding thorns.

“Jude taught me what love was: to be willing to hold on to another person’s pain. That’s it.”

The writing is haunting and impeccable. Oakes’ style of writing makes you feel more involved in the story and much more attuned to the characters thoughts and feelings. I felt for Minnow in ways that I cannot even describe properly. There were times where I tried to imagine a life without hands, the horror of being deprived of such a necessity for such a senseless reason. And it is unbearable to even think about it. I also appreciated the fact that the author used flashbacks to bring to life Minnow’s past and it was a perfect way to bring out the stark contrast between then and now, the Minnow before and the Minnow after. The horrors of the world described in this book were absolutely mind-numbing, with scenes so graphic and horrifying that made me want to stop reading at times. This is the reason why this book might not be for everyone but I would still highly recommend it [and you can always skip the parts you may find unbearable].

A haunting book such as this one deserves so much praise, both for it’s complex characters and the beautiful writing. So don’t hesitate to read it! It is definitely one of my top favourites this year!  x

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆


  • Genre: Young- Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
  • Edition: Dial Books, June 2015, Hardcover
  • Pages: 400