Home > Book, Causes, Child Abuse, Genre, memoir, Review > Book Review: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

Book Review: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

A white little girl standing with a black little boy in front of a school bus.Summary:
In this memoir, Julia recalls growing up in a conservative Calvinist family in Indiana with her two adopted black brothers and the parental abuse and general racism they faced.  The last part of the memoir recalls her time spent in the Dominican Republic at a fundamentalist Christian reform school–Escuela Caribe–and the further abuse inflicted upon herself and David there.

Review:
I heard about this memoir due to the section on Escuela Caribe.  A cousin of mine was sent there by her parents in the 2000s and when googling it, I came across all the controversy surrounding the school with this memoir frequently cited.  I therefore expected this book to predominantly be about a vicious reform school.  In fact, it is a stunning exploration of race and racism in the United States.

Julia was four when her parents adopted David, and they immediately bonded.  Julia frequently expresses feeling as if David, who is only a few months younger than herself, is her twin brother.  They are happy siblings and oblivious to the racism around them until their parents adopt another boy a year older than them, Jerome, so that David can “have one of his own kind around.”  Jerome is violent, steals, slacks at school, and molests Julia.  Julia eventually comes to wonder why her parents beat Jerome and David when they sin but simply send her to her room.  This combined with Jerome’s continued attempts to convince David to side with him against “the whiteys” is confusing and painful to Julia.  Julia and David feel as if they are truly brother and sister, why doesn’t anyone else treat them that way?  Julia beautifully depicts her own struggles against imitating racist actions and words as well as her brother David’s struggles against internalizing the racism they are surrounded with.

The other element strong in the memoir is a bracing look at the violence, anger, and fear often found in fundamentalist Christian homes.  Children are guided with anger and violence instead of love due to the Bible verse “spare the rod, spoil the child.”  Julia’s parents believed in this, and Escuela Caribe clearly firmly believes it as well.  They believe the children are horrible people and the sin must be beaten out of them, whether with belts, boxing gloves, over-exercising, humiliation, or excruciating physical labor.  This is important for people to know about, and Julia paints a clear picture in an unbiased voice.  Indeed, this is the least biased narrative voice I’ve ever read in a memoir, which makes it all that much more believable and painful to read.

Julia’s writing talent is strong, and she weaves a painful narrative that is difficult to put down and forces the reader to confront racism and abuse in American culture.  I recommend it to anyone who enjoys memoirs or has an interest in race relations or fundamentalist Christianity.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Swaptree

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