The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes (HarperCollins) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9781460750780
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
This powerful and riveting cross-over novel is not for the faint-hearted. It begins: ‘I am a blood-soaked girl. Before me, a body. Pulped. My boots are drenched with his blood.’ The girl, seventeen year old Minnow Bly, raised in the Kevinian cult from the age of five, goes on to say, ‘I wonder if this is how the Prophet felt the moment he ordered my hands ripped from me.’
Is the Minnow handless? The answer is yes, and it was her father who used a hatchet to dispatch them. Within minutes after this scene, Minnow is arrested by the police (‘blurry white shapes, like ghosts, stuffed inside tight uniforms’); subsequently she appears in court and is sentenced to juvie.
It is never clear who the victim of her crime is, or what eventually happened to him, or even why Minnow attacked him. Suffice to say, most of the story is set – despite frequent flash-backs -- inside a correctional centre. There the brain-washed, illiterate girl tries to scratch at The Truth. She does this by questioning all around her who have different beliefs, and by learning to read. She befriends Angel, a convicted murderer who is wise beyond her years, and gradually forms a relationship with Dr Martin, an FBI detective who tries to make a deal with her to solve the mystery of the death of The Community and its leader, a man who once tried to ‘marry’ Minnow and her younger sister, Constance.
At almost 400 pages, this is a long read but the writing is always poetic and compelling. Constantly one is wondering what will become of Minnow; will she survive the endless internment away from the woods where she has lived for so long, will she confess to Martin, will she go to live with her lover Jude when she is released.
Stephanie Oakes’ debut novel is powerful, dark, horrifying and atmospheric novel that totally engages the reader and lingers long in the memory. It is highly recommended for those who can cope with the dark side of life.