One of my favorite aspects of my job is purchasing books for the 200s section of our nonfiction collection–Religion. The number of memoirs and essay collections about people’s religious experiences are vast, passionate, and endlessly fascinating.
I recently purchased Daniella Mestyanek Young’s memoir Uncultured. Young’s story details her childhood in the religious cult, The Children of God, also known as The Family, and the extreme lengths the community goes to to mold their followers into fervent, unquestioning believers.
The memoir is anything but light as Young describes the seemingly endless physical and sexual abuse that the leaders of The Family claimed was “godly discipline and love.” The child abuse that is described in Young’s story is abundant, making the book difficult to read at times, but also quite straightforward. Young conveys the details of her traumatic upbringing in a very to-the-point manner, only veiling the most gruesome details for her own privacy.
When Young turned fifteen, she escaped The Children of God. She moved to Texas to live with a half-sister (of which she has many, due to the sharing of women amongst male cult members), enrolled in high school (her first time in “Systemite” school), finished college, and eventually joins the military and works her way up to a role as an intelligence officer.
At the end of her time enlisted, Young reckons with her life and choices in a way that she hasn’t been able to before. She originally joined the military to find another community to belong to and a group with a shared goal to work towards. Without realizing it, she essentially joined another cult-like group. Just as in The Children of God, the group mentality and abuse of women were integral to the functionality of the system.
Uncultured is clear-cut and determined: Young responsibly takes her readers through the painful but necessary revelations of a global group that has claimed a faith that allows women and children to only exist in service of perverse men. Eye-opening is just one word to describe this exposé on religious cults and the human destruction they ensue.
This title is also available in large print.
It is a particularly exciting experience to read a popular book while it’s popular, and I often am either too stubborn to be swayed into reading mainstream books or too far behind on my TBR list to add a brand new one. That was not the case with Jennette McCurdy’s memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, which came out at the beginning of August and is already a smash hit. I was enthralled with the former Nickelodeon star’s book and devoured it cover to cover.
Maybe my childhood memories of watching McCurdy in iCarly fueled my ambitious reading speed, but the memoir itself stands strongly on its own apart from her child-stardom. Spanning the time she was just around 6 years old to her late twenties, McCurdy details the obsessive pressure her mother placed on her to be an actor. The fervor with which she wanted her daughter to be famous quickly developed in teaching her to “calorie restrict,” which horrifically evolved into a life-long string of eating disorders of which McCurdy will never completely be free. Her mother also exhibited many signs of undiagnosed mental illness, manifesting most profoundly as hoarding and obsessively restricting her own diet.
McCurdy’s memoir moves linearly, a narrative choice that punches home the notion that mental illness itself does not follow a linear path of recovery. So much of the book is about the years of her adolescence and early adulthood she spent sinking farther and farther into a hole of self-loathing and self-destruction. McCurdy’s life up until her mid-to-late twenties was riddled with addiction and bulimia, all the while smiling for Nickelodeon as if her life wasn’t crushing her day after day. And then her mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The death of McCurdy’s abusive parent was unsettling and complex, a barrage of relief that she was free from the abuse but also sorrow that her mom was dead. Beyond this particularly warped brand of grief, she not only lost her mother but had to watch her slowly and viciously die. She posits the years of her life after her mother’s death almost as a renewal, as it was the first time in her life that she had full control of her body and her career.
Cathartic and achingly candid, McCurdy’s memoir is a solid portrait of survival and the moxie it requires to laugh at and in spite of your trauma. If you have been considering giving I’m Glad My Mom Died a read, I highly recommend it!
This title is also available as an eBook on Libby.
Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D Jackson is a haunting story of one teenage girl’s struggle to get someone to believe her that her best friend is missing.
Claudia always believed that she and her best friend Monday Charles told each other everything. They are inseparable soul sisters who may not be related, but who spend a lot of time in each other’s company. Having spent years together, Monday and Claudia even made up their own language. Without Monday, Claudia would not have had any friends and school would have been even more difficult for her. Monday helps her so much with tests and bullies; the two always stick up for each other. They are incredibly close.
Every summer, Claudia spends the summer with her grandma, leaving Monday behind. They stay in touch by sending letters back and forth. The summer before 8th grade was no different with Claudia leaving and hoping to hear from Monday. However Monday never sent her any letters. Coming back from her visit, Claudia immediately tries to call Monday, but no one answers. Her mom tells her not to worry because Monday will show up to school. She doesn’t.
No one seems to care or even notice that Monday is missing except for Claudia. Monday doesn’t show up to school for weeks and Claudia is worried. She knows something is wrong. Not able to get any adult to help her look for Monday, Claudia starts digging into Monday’s disappearance herself. Monday’s mom isn’t giving her a straight answer and Monday’s older sister April isn’t helping either. As Claudia keeps looking for her best friend, she discovers that no one can remember when they last saw Monday. The lack of concern or call to arms to search for Monday has Claudia sick to her stomach and worried. How could no one have noticed that Monday was gone? Where did she go? What happened to her? Why does no one care?
This book is also available in the following formats:
By turns humorous and heart wrenching, the documentary Buck is far more than it first appears. Sure, it’s about horses and how to treat them, but it’s also about people and facing adversity and being the best person you can, no matter what you’ve faced in the past.
Buck Brannaman (who was the inspiration for and consultant to the movie The Horse Whisperer and even worked as Robert Redford’s stunt double) travels across the country giving workshops on “Natural Horsemanship”, a method of training horses that rejects cruelty and “breaking”, and instead teaches understanding and finding mutual benefits for both horse and rider. People often bring “problem” horses to Buck, horses that refuse to be saddled or follow commands; invariably Buck has the horse calm and obedient within minutes, all done with gentle, persistent direction. Buck points out that most of the time the problem lies with the rider; he doesn’t treat people with horse problems, he treats horses with people problems.
What’s most riveting about Buck though is Buck Brannaman himself. Raised by a tyrannical father that regularly beat and abused him and his brother, Buck has actively chosen to leave that legacy in the past. He has an empathy for horses – and people – that only someone that has known what it’s like to be afraid and helpless can have. He’s found that the way that he’s learned to treat horses – by giving them a chance – bleeds into your life and how you treat your fellow humans. Buck is exactly the kind of person you’d like to invite over for barbeque and a beer – funny and smart and thoughtful, a true modern cowboy. This documentary is beautifully photographed and edited. Buck’s story informs the film, but doesn’t overwhelm it. And despite the past suffering, what you’ll remember and feel is hope for the future.