Oakes, Stephanie. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. New York: Dial Books, 2015. 978-0-803-74070-9. $17.99. 398p. Gr. 9 and up.
“I am a blood-soaked girl” (Oakes 1). Thus begins the story of Minnow Bly and her journey from the mountains of Montana to juvenile detention. Raised from a young age in the secluded, polygamous, Kevinian cult, Minnow remembers a world outside of the Community but has been taught (brainwashed) to believe that that world is evil and sinful, and only the Community and the Prophet can protect people from the Gentiles and the war between God and the unbelievers. After the Prophet receives a prophecy from God (also known as Charlie), Minnow’s fate is set; she is to become his next wife. When she refuses her fate and runs away, she is caught and her hands are chopped off as penance for her disobedience. Handless, she is returned to the “maidenhood” room to prepare for marriage, but during an evening of fellowship in Prophet Hall, Minnow’s mother releases her from seclusion, and she is able to escape into the woods. She runs to her best friend Jude’s cabin, where together, Jude and his father care for Minnow. As she heals, Minnow realizes that she must return to the community to save her twelve-year old sister, Minnow’s replacement as the Prophet’s new wife. Caught trying to save a brainwashed Constance, Minnow and Jude are subjected to death by the community. Minnow survives, escapes to the world, beats a man to near death, and ends up in juvenile detention. Jude is beaten to death; his body disappearing as the Community is burned to the ground. Told through flashbacks and dialogue, the story of Minnow’s experience in the community unfolds as a story of strength, cruelty, friendship, fear, and love. THOUGHTS: This debut novel is exceptional. It received starred reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and VOYA and was a 2016 William C. Morris Award finalist. This is a must-have for all high school libraries.
Realistic Fiction; Suspense Erin Parkinson, Lincoln JSHS, Ellwood City SD
I absolutely loved The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. It has a purity and innocence that I haven’t seen in many of the 2015 YA novels I’ve read. Minnow is strong and incredibly weak at the same time. She stands up for herself and her beliefs, while also questioning everything she has been taught. Readers will root for her throughout, even though her entire story doesn’t unfold until after page 300. She states towards the end of the novel, “The power to do what I know is right. The power to free myself, finally” (Oakes 378). This is the true message of the novel. Be strong for yourself. Minnow does this and is able to free herself of her past. She is a prominent female protagonist whose questioning of everything will resonate with teen readers.
Shusterman, Neal. Challenger Deep. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 978-0-06-113411. $17.99. Gr. 9-12.
Middle grade science-fiction staple Neal Shusterman explores teenage mental illness in this deeply affecting, incredible novel. Caden Bosch is living between two worlds. In one, he’s a typical high school teenager with a few odd quirks; in the other, he’s the resident artist on the Challenger Deep, a ship that’s travelling faster and faster towards a dark abyss in the deepest part of the ocean. On the ship, Caden finds himself ignoring his friends and family but can’t understand why. Through broken glimpses into both worlds, readers see the boy that once was normal, and the boy that is now deeply paranoid, distracted, and isolated. Caden is someone all readers can relate to, and Shusterman gently guides the reader into the harrowing reality of a real mental illness; the paranoia, the questioning, the misunderstanding. Shusterman writes with tact, care, and authority that is important for the teen audience. Shusterman based Caden on his son, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and the drawings throughout the story are his son’s. THOUGHTS: Shusterman’s story brings to light an important, rarely talked about illness that affects many teens and/or those around them. With a touch of magical realism, Caden’s voice is authentic and personal. A fantastic addition to any teen collection.
Realistic Fiction Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School