Monday, June 29, 2009

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

As usual, I had a book with me on this trip, Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres. I remember seeing this on the new paperback table at Borders when I had some leftover professional development money. I picked up all the provocative-looking memoirs, and this was one of them.

Wow, it is good. I'm not sure how much to say because it was a great experience reading it and being stunned when certain things happened. The biggest reason I read it as fast as I did was because I wanted to find out what happened to everyone and how they were going to get from point A to point B. Scheeres grew up in Indiana in the 70s and 80s in a conservative Christian household. Her family was white, and her parents adopted two black boys (separately). She was close in age to the youngest one, David, and they became best friends. He and the older boy were the only black kids in the entire school. And thier mother had the attitude of turning the other cheek whenever they encoutered racism. You can imagine how effective that was. And their parents were very strict. Actually, that is not the best word. Frankly, I think they were abusive. And when the kids did not behave properly, the parents sent Julia and David (at separate times) to Escule Caribe in the Dominican Republic. There, the abuse got worse.

That's why I read the book from start to finish and wanted to get it done so quickly. I wanted to know if it could get worse and how/when they got out. The details above are pretty much the same details that appear on the back of the book, so I haven't revealed much that most readers won't know when they start reading. I did get to the point where I skimmed the last chapter before I was halfway done, and I NEVER do that. But I was really feeling for these people. Racism and religious bigotry all at once.

On her website (linked to above), Scheeres has scans of several documents that were part of her research. The academic geek in me loved seeing them, and I just might refer to them in an article I'm writing on truth in memoir. She also helped start a website where alumni of the school and its affiliates could tell the truth about their experiences. It's painful to read. Frankly, I've never trusted those places, and reading the book and the website upset me even more. And I don't even have a personal connection. I notice that talk shows no longer have episodes where kids are taken to boot camps, and I wonder if that's because the truth about them has been coming out over the last few years.

That's just one reason why a book like this is so powerful.

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