Here we are with another double review! These are two audio books that I got from my library and listened to while I was on recent break. I can’t emphasize enough how grateful I am for libraries that have digital libraries and the variety that they can have with audio books 🙂
Title: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Author: Stephanie Oakes (Debut)
Genre: YA Contemporary/Mystery/Thriller
Release Date: June 9th 2015 from Dial Books
Narrator: Morgan Hallett
Audio Book Time: 8 hours, 50 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
When I discovered a second digital app that my library uses, I perused it and found this audio book. I had seen reviews on it a while ago, but when it was available, I immediately download it to give it a try. This book was very different from the normal YA books that I read and for most of it, it was terrifying, real and raw as we dive into what happened to Minnow and the dark layers of the cult that she escaped. But in the end, I didn’t love it like many other people have. I have some positives but also gripes that prevented this book from being a 5 star read.
First off with the positives, this book truly doesn’t sugar coat the terrifying reality of religious cults that are out there. The author shows the terror of this Prophet who lied to these people and all the abuse and how they were all oppressed. I’ve heard about some cults throughout my life and this is a real thing that still happens and some scenes were truly scary.
The second positive is the writing. I will try another book from this author due to how well she creates emotion, setting and the insanity of many of the characters. You do wonder if Minnow is telling the truth as the story goes on when she talks about the Community. This was a debut novel that didn’t feel like it was a debut and that’s awesome.
The next thing I enjoyed were all the parts of the Community. Knowing what actually happened there was not only scary, but it truly felt real. I almost wanted to Google it and find out more. These parts were the best of the book when Minnow talked about her life there and she came to have her own thoughts and want to leave. Her bravery back then was remarkable.
But now we’re getting into my cons and I think some of them are just personal with how I deconstructed the book after finishing.
First thing is that the way Minnow gets into juvie wasn’t well done. She viciously attacked someone, but then this whole thing is only brought up twice and never again. The focus of the story is what happened to her in the cult and this small subplot didn’t feel important enough to be valid. The guy shows up once to talk to her, but Minnow never thinks about this situation other than one time. It felt so thin that I feel like it would’ve been cut to offer less distraction from the book.
The other thing I didn’t quite like is how the book seemed to convey that being in juvie was better than being in a cult and I don’t agree with that. Another reviewer brought this up and I’m with them. The book makes it sound like that Minnow was “meant” to be in juvie. While yes, you are safer there than where you were before, but Minnow doesn’t really grow much in juvie. While she does learn stuff about the real world (computers, books, how to read, social culture in a few ways, etc.), I feel like she never truly comes into herself in juvie. I feel like Angel twisted too much of Minnow’s thoughts that Minnow kept thinking like Angel and not like her own self. That bravery of knowing she was being lied to was gone. She would swear like Angel, be pessimistic like Angel and not trust Dr. Wilson who was genuinely trying to help her. While Angel was a good side character, she wasn’t good for Minnow and it was sad that Minnow didn’t have a ton of her own thoughts until towards the end about only a few things.
The next thing that really bugged me was the ending. It was WAY too open ended and that truly bothered me. There was so much left to be answered and that made me feel cheated. We could have gotten some more info on the fate of a few people, or even more clues as to where she ended up. The way the author built the whole story around the cult was so interesting that we never got more about what happened to some that were involved, if she ever sees some of them again or other things. While I have a strong feeling that at least one thing happened to Minnow after the story ended, we easily could’ve gotten more closure to make the story feel more complete.
I will also say that the narrator was good. Sometimes she was a bit robotic when her voice could’ve had more pain, panic or insanity to bring the story more to life. But she did a great voice for Minnow and did capture some of the emotions she felt. A solid narration, but not a favorite narrator. I wanted to completely love this book, but some problems prevented me from loving it. If you’re curious about this book, tread with caution if you’re squeamish.
Overall: I appreciate how real this story gets with how cults like this have exist and still are around and how Minnow does gain some independence of her own from what she’s known. Her voice is genuine and the author gives us great moments of her defiance and also innocence. While some things didn’t work for me, I do recommend the physical book if you want to read a hard hitting book. This does have some graphic content, so I only recommend it to mature readers. It’s such a solid debut, but wasn’t a favorite.
Rating: .5 stars
Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Release Date: February 2nd 2016 from Random House
Narrators: Will Damron, Cassandra Morris, Jorjeana Marie and Michael Crouch
Audio Book Time: 8 hours, 47 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the Wilhelm Gustloff. Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety.
Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people—adults and children alike—aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.
This book has a TON of hype surrounding this ever since it came out 3 years ago. It won the Carnegie Medal and has been on many lists and videos of favorite historical fiction. I have read the author’s two previous novels in the past couple years, so when it was available on audio book, I jumped on board. It seemed to call to me to listen to it, and seriously, I devoured this audio book in 3 days and that is RARE for me! This audio book sucked me right in with its chilling story and I’ll tell you right now: the hype is real and is deserved.
In this story we follow four characters: Joana (Lithuanian), Florian (East Prussian), Alfred (German) and Emilia (Polish). All four of these teens will eventually come together and see through their eyes the forgotten Wilhelm Gustloff marine tragedy. At this time, thousands of people were fleeing to these boats like Gustloff to escape the Germans before the end of the war. Joana is with a group of people and she comes into contact with Florian and Emilia after they run into the group. Florian is a young man with a secret and wanting revenge against Hitler. Emilia was also fleeing after a dark secret she’s carrying and ends up being rescued by Florian. While they are reluctant to join Joana and her refugee group, they find that they have no choice with Soviet soldiers closing in and watching the roads. Then we have Alfred, a German sailor who will be on the Gustloff. He idolizes Hitler and believes in his ideals and it’s easy to both hate him and also pity him.
Basically, this book wrecked me and I was emotionally drained and heavy hearted after I finished this audio book. This time in history was dark and people were hungry, desperate and also both angry and fearful and wanting to escape the Reich after all that had happened. People pawn children to get passage on the ship, stealing possessions, hiding secrets and ultimately fear for their lives on the ship. Each narrator brings their character to life and capture the complexity each person has. Three of the four teens have lost so much and are trying to find answers and a solution to a better life. I especially loved Jorjeana Marie who voices Joana; the pain, panic, fear and sometimes emptiness she feels was so raw that I teared up a few times during her chapters. Joana has medical training and wants to help people but sometimes finds herself hopeless.
Then we have Will Damron as Florian, an angry Prussian young man who wants revenge against Hitler. At first, he wants nothing to do with the other characters and is stubborn and guarded. His revenge motives are honest and I could see how angry he was, but then as he spends more time with the other characters, he slowly lets himself feel again and he becomes a broken person that I cared so much for. Emilia is voiced by Cassandra Morris and her young sounding voice captures the fragile mind Emilia has. She has both pleasant and ugly memories but then starts gaining inner strength that was so uplifting. I did like Michael Crouch as Alfred alright; I think his narration was the weakest and didn’t completely translate Alfred as well as the other narrators have. But this cast was well rounded and I think they did a good job with the German, Polish and other languages that do appear in this book. Their voices in the final chapters stunned me and I felt transported to that awful day.
I can’t recommend this book enough if you love history, especially lost chapters that aren’t well known. This time in WWII is so horrifying and tragic, while also having beacons of kindness and mercy throughout. This is an important to be told and be experienced. Ruta Sepetys captures this chapter in time with care but doesn’t sugar coat the ruthless fate this ship endures. Below is a video of the author talking about this book and I highly recommend watching.
Overall: I know this book will stay with me for a long time and that’s saying something. We deserve to remember these lost chapters in history. While I do think most of the chapters could’ve been longer to dig even deeper into each character, this is my favorite novel by her to date. I think this needs to be required reading both in schools and also if you love YA and history.
Rating: .5 stars
Have you read these books? If so, what did you think of them? Do you have any other historical fiction that’s similar that you would recommend? Let me know in the comments!