Friday, May 28, 2010

Review: Jesusland by Julia Scheres


Jesusland by Julia Scheres

Description from
Journalist Scheeres offers a frank and compelling portrait of growing up as a white girl with two adopted black brothers in 1970s rural Indiana, and of her later stay with one of them at a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. The book takes its title from a homemade sign that Scheeres and the brother closest to her in age and temperament, David, spot one day on a road in the Hoosier countryside, proclaiming, "This here is: JESUS LAND." And while religion is omnipresent both at their school and in the home of their devout parents, the two rarely find themselves the beneficiaries of anything resembling Christian love. One of the elements that make Scheeres's book so successful is her distanced, uncritical tone in relaying deeply personal and clearly painful events from her life. She powerfully renders episodes like her attempted rape at the hands of three boys, the harsh beatings administered to David by her father and the ceaseless racial taunting by schoolmates; her lack of perceivable malice or vindictiveness prevents readers from feeling coerced into sympathy. The same can be said for Scheeres's description of their Dominican school, where humiliation and physical punishment are meant to redeem the allegedly misguided pupils. Tinged with sadness yet pervaded by a sense of triumph, Scheeres's book is a crisply written and earnest examination of the meaning of family and Christian values, and announces the author as a writer to watch. 

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had absolutely no expectations when I grabbed this book off of my TBR pile. I love a good memoir but I had no idea what this one was about. I ultimately found it to be a really compelling memoir that really kept my attention and gave me a lot of food for thought. There is a lot of sadness, heartache and chaos in this book but it gave me an interesting perspective on fundamentalist Christianity. The relationship between Julia Scheres and her adopted brother was very compelling. She described this book as a tribute to him in many ways and I think she did a great job of telling her story as well as his story. I found the content disturbing and raw. I'm glad that I read it and that I was able to take that journey with Ms. Scheres and her brother. I wish that their earlier life had been less chaotic, less abusive and less ugly. I found the story to be tragic and uncomfortable at parts but I liked the writing style - unflinchingly honest. Very compelling read!

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