Book Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Posted September 14, 2015 by Lyn Kaye in book review, Lyn / 11 Comments

Book Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow BlyThe Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes
Published by Dial on June 9th 2015
Genres: young adult, contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon

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.

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is a bit deceptive. My first impression was that this story was going to contain a plucky, spirited girl rebelling against her cult upbringing.  I had pictured a bit more of a cheekier Gated.

This is not a cute yet serious story about a girl rebelling against the world, this is a book that tells the tale of a life gone horribly wrong at the hands of an extremist. There is nothing sweet or quirky about this one, although it is heartwarming. This is a gritty, raw, dark tale with small little shiny areas. The cover doesn’t fit the story in the least bit (although it is a great cover!)

Border Leaf

Even though this book is horribly dark and frankly depressing, it doesn’t make it a bad novel. The book doesn’t aim to shock you or resort to flat out gore to tease the audience. There is plenty of horrors found in this one, but the author wrote it to fit the tale of blind faith and the atrocities made in the name of beliefs. The book was shocking in a realistic sense, which was the most horrifying aspects.

Minnow is a character that I really wanted to hug tightly and take her away from everything. Her story was heartbreaking, and the emotions dredged up was a whole slew of pity and outrage. Minnow is curious, smart and ostracized because of her curiosity of the world around her, which the Prophet attempts to throttle by stripping away her intelligence, taking a gift and a virtue and twisting it into a sinful indulgence. This book targeted an extreme cult sect, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t relevant to the outside society. Girls are punished for pursuing more “masculine subjects” and bullied away from natural curiosity today in our own world. It doesn’t take a scary, insane sect leader to smother a girl’s appetite for knowledge. That is happening today in the world. Girls are given pink and purple building blocks and soft, sweet looking toys. Society expects them to want baking sets and dolls, and not microscopes or you doctor kits. There is nothing wrong with neon pink Legos and sweet-faced dollies, but it is wrong that it isn’t a choice for some girls. That is enough to provoke the rage in me while reading. Some of the things encouraged by the horrific cult setting is also standard practice in our very backyards.

Minnow was a great MC. She might end up being on my list of favorites. While Minnow is a victim of crimes that was hard to stomach reading, but she also makes a point to tell how she is the monster and the victim, all rolled into one. Boughs of depression sink her down at times, which I don’t often see in these stories. The female MCs are enraged, scared, coy or flt out uninterested, but I have never seen one capture situation depression so perfectly. She ranged back and forth between defiant and listless, and her thoughts bounce back and forth between anger at the world and disgust at herself.

I’m not a big fan of prison fiction, but (and I hate to do this) OitNB has opened me up to realistic stories about prison. And yes, this story runs in the same vein as the TV show. The other prisoners in the novel are just as complex as the televised characters. These girls committed crimes, and they landed their due to their own actions.

Angel, the other important character of the story, has blood on her hands. She is far from innocent or blameless, but her reasoning is heartbreaking. When a girl is raised in an environment that fails to protect her, how can we expect for her to use “reason” and “good judgement”? If someone is hurting her or someone else, her environmental examples promote to become the aggressor and take matters into your own hands. When the system failed her, she solved the problem the best way she knew how, and in return, she was scorned and demonized. I am not asking for the murders and the criminals to walk out because they are “sorry”, but how can we, as a society, punish those we failed to protect or help? The entire prison cycle makes me sick to my stomach, and Angel’s story, once again, sent me off into a mental rant.

So how is it possible to enjoy a book where these horrible things happen? How can I rate and love a book  with so much terror? Because this novel is a wonderful representation of the fact that there are always good things in life to fight for.  Life is often cruel and filled with pain and fear, but there is so much that is still good in the world. Also, Minnow starts to see that the world is bigger than just her small little part, that there is pain for everyone. Sadly, Minnow’s trauma is very noticeable, but as the story progresses, she discovers that everyone else’s scars are below the surface, festering and throbbing, hidden away from the rest of the world.


When the word “cult” comes in, I always know that the book is going to be tough to handle, but this one trumped all of the other cult fiction I have run across. There is no glurging for your pity or your outrage or your hate.  I enjoy a book that provokes me, not bullies me or influences me, into feelings certain emotions. This book was right on the mark. There are going to be times when you want to just walk away from the book, but it is worth it to see the beauty under all of the blood and fear. I really hope this one is remembered during award season, because this one is a cut above the rest for 2015.

Lyn Sig Plant

11 responses to “Book Review: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

    • I highly recommend this book – it really breaks away from the typical YA genre. And the romance – it isn’t so cut and dry, and I appreciate that an author took a real CHANCE on her story!

      Thank you for stopping by!
      Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: InfernoMy Profile

  1. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book, and to be honest, the subject matter sounds really interesting. I’ve never read books about cults before and so, I want to try and make this my first. Fantastic review, Lyn. Also… I should probably start watching OitNB soon.
    Vane recently posted…Review: FirstsMy Profile

    • I was a bit worried about the hype, but this book deserves all of the accolades. Vane, I hope you read it, because it isn’t the typical YA read. It actually gets gutsy and tough, and nothing is just cleanly wrapped up at the end. I really think you would enjoy this one.
      Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: InfernoMy Profile

    • Please do read this one soon! This is a book that is going to land on the end of the year favorite list. I really enjoyed how the novel wasn’t a squeaky clean story that had a perfect little ending. There is a lot of moral questions, and I would love to see what other readers think about this one.
      Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: InfernoMy Profile

    • Yah! I hope you get to read it. I was amazed by the utter darkness of the novel. The author takes some real chances on her story, which made the book so much more vivid for me. There is no light, fluffy ending, or a clean answer to Minnow’s issues. I have nothing but the highest praise for this book.
      Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: InfernoMy Profile

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