I know a little about the Brides of Christ, so when I heard there was a fictionalization of their story, I knew I had to get my hands on it.
In 1903, a preacher who calls himself Joshua moves to Corvallis, Oregon and sets up a new church. At first, everything goes well, but when Joshua’s preaching strays too far from what’s in the Bible, the men in Corvallis chase him into the wilderness. But, he doesn’t go alone. A few women from his congregation go with him. After that, things get weird.
This is a hard book to review because it’s based on a true story, and the author is working within the confines of history. The book is short, fast-paced, and written for a young adult audience, so I was able to finish it in a few hours. The story hooked me immediately. I couldn’t put it down, even though I already knew the basics of the plot.
The story takes place over several years and is narrated by Eva, the youngest of the women who refuse to give up on Joshua. Eva is confused because everyone in her life is telling her something different. Her mother, brother, and sister love Joshua; her father hates him; some of her friends disown her for following him; and others encourage her not to give up on him because he’s trying to help people. It’s easy for the reader to understand Eva’s confusion and feel bad for her. Everyone in her life is pressuring her to do something different.
The most interesting part of this book is that it shows the culture of rural Oregon in 1903. Back then, religious freedom and women’s rights weren’t really things. When Joshua’s church becomes a public nuisance, the police look the other way while the townspeople try to murder Joshua and harass his congregation. Men have no trouble getting their wives and daughters sent to mental institutions for refusing to abandon their religion. And, when Eva is raped, she becomes a “ruined” woman. Very few people care about her body or mind, but everybody cares about her virginity and marriage potential. I guess 1903 was a terrible time to be a woman with a non-mainstream religion.
Eva’s father is a product of his time, but I still have a lot of respect for him. He knows that Joshua is dangerous, and he refuses to lose his family to the preacher’s abuse. Even though Eva argues, and runs away, and behaves like a teenage tyrant, her father refuses to let Joshua have her. He loves Eva, even when she makes really bad decisions.
I wish the characters had been better developed. I know they’re real people, and we probably don’t have many details about their lives, but they didn’t have much personality. Some of the characters’ actions also felt forced to me. The author tries very hard to help the reader understand why these women follow Joshua into the woods, but since Joshua’s character is underdeveloped, I didn’t see the appeal of him. If I had seen more of his personality, maybe the characters’ choices would have been easier to accept.
Also, I don’t usually say this, but the plot moves too fast for me. This is a very short book that covers several huge moments in Eva’s life. It probably moves quickly because we don’t know much about the real Eva’s life, but I wish the story had been slower and more detailed.
Despite a few issues, I really liked Brides of Eden. This is one of those stories that need to be told. Brides of Eden might be a perfect book for anyone who wants to read a fast-paced story that’s stranger than fiction.