Seventeen-year-old Minnow is in juvenile detention and suspected of murdering the leader of the cult where she grew up. As Minnow’s backstory unravels, the truth about what really happened to the prophet becomes crazier and crazier. This story is a retelling of The Handless Maiden.
This is one of those books where you say, “I’ll just read a few chapters before bed.” Then, it’s suddenly morning, and you’ve read the whole thing. That’s what happened to me. I didn’t want to stop reading. I needed to solve the mystery of what happened to the prophet.
The plot is fast-paced and intense. Most of the book takes place in a prison, but there are short flashbacks to Minnow’s childhood in the cult. There is a mystery element to the story, and I spent the whole book wondering how Minnow is involved in the prophet’s death. The terrifying truth is something that you’ll never see coming.
The beginning of the book is bizarre and atmospheric. It’ll hook you right away. Minnow is an easy character to like. She’s naïve because she has lived most of her life in an isolated community, but she’s very curious about the world and not afraid to ask questions. I love that she questions her religion and the religions of the people around her. One of the reasons that religious abuse happens in real life is because people are afraid to ask questions and explore options when it comes to religion. After Minnow leaves the cult, she starts searching for a belief system that works for her. It’s awesome. I wish more people in real life would have that type of courage.
All of the characters are well-developed, but Minnow’s cellmate, Angel, is my favorite. She provides the comic relief, and she teaches Minnow about the world. I also really like Jude. He’s a far-from-perfect love interest, which is rare in young adult novels. The romance is realistic, and Minnow has to make some difficult choices about it in the end.
I could keep gushing about this book forever. The writing is poetic. The setting is vivid. The plot is compelling. And, best of all, it’s actually a believable story! I study religion as a hobby, and there are many fictional books about religion that make me roll my eyes and go “Really? REALLY? People do not behave that way.” I was so happy to find a fictional cult book that isn’t completely stupid. Reading this novel was especially creepy for me because I was just studying how amputation is used as a punishment in some religions. My background knowledge made this book very realistic for me.
I do have some criticisms, but I can’t talk about them because they’re major spoilers. I’ll just say that I’m not a massive fan of the ending. There are a few things that I think are wrapped up too quickly or too vaguely. The prophet’s death especially disappointed me because there is so much buildup to it, but it’s anticlimactic and convenient. I was hoping for more.
Overall, I love this book. It’s strange, and thrilling, and has minimal romance, and I’d recommend it to everybody.