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Book Review: Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

June 17, 2010 1 comment

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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Friday Fun! (Featuring My Niece and Swaptree)

January 15, 2010 14 comments

My lovely loyal readers and friends, so sorry there’s been no book reviews this week!  The book I’m currently reading is really long, and I’m not enjoying it that much so the pace of my reading is a bit below average.  I definitely should ring in next week with a review though, as it’s almost done!

This week I played pub trivia for the first time and discovered that I am not good at trivia.  This is funny and ironic cause I know lots of random facts, but apparently I don’t know trivia type facts.  I mean, really, who’s a tall athletic actor who guest starred in 1970s tv shows?  Jeez, I dunno.  I also didn’t enjoy that the music to keep teams from overhearing each other meant that I had to yell all night.  That’s only worth it for a concert.  Ah well.  Lesson learned.  I guess I should stick to arcade games, pool tables, and dart boards when we go out.

Some of you are aware that I welcomed my first niece into the world on December 23rd.  My brother and my sister-in-law made the choice to have her, even though she has Down Syndrome.  I know they have plenty of love in their hearts for a special baby, and they are just wonderful with her.  Unfortunately, one of the elements of Down Syndrome is that the babies almost all have heart problems.  They usually operate on the babies at 6 months (I have no idea why at that particular point, but I’m sure there’s a reason).  Anyway, due to the heart condition, my niece is not very strong.  She struggled to learn how to eat.  I guess that takes a lot of energy she didn’t have at first.  Finally she gained enough weight and was eating well enough to come home.  I was going to go meet her and visit my brother and father this weekend, but unfortunately she had to get readmitted to the hospital.  She wasn’t gaining weight, which babies are supposed to do.  This is of course difficult for my brother and sister-in-law who also have an almost 3 year old little boy to take care of and a small farm to run.  Thankfully, most of my family lives near them so they have lots of help.  I wish there was something I could do from a distance to help my brother, but there’s not much beyond being an ear to listen when he needs to talk.

In much happier news, allow me to tell you guys about Swaptree.  Swaptree allows you to list books you have but don’t want and books you want, and then it sets up 1:1 trades for you (or you can browse and request trades yourself).  This works extra well since they set up 3 way trades, which helps you find a lot more books.  The matches they make are in no particular order on your want list, so it’s a bit of a surprise what you get, particularly if your want list is as long as mine.  Since part of ringing in the new year was weeding my personal library, I excitedly decided to try this out.  It’s so awesome!  So far I’ve gotten rid of 8 books for books on my tbr list.  For those wondering, my weeded books were mainly textbooks I will never ever read again, some romance novels that came to my library for free that my boss gave me, and books from a point in my deconversion when I was wondering if maybe I should be pagan.  For the record, I’m not pagan.  I guess I’m deist.  Anywho, so the books I’ve received in exchange so far are:

  • Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford
    Do not mock me.  I have a thing for memoirs.
  • Living the Simple Life by Elaine St. James
    I’m a big fan of minimalism, and this was highly recommended on minimalist blogs.
  • The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox
    Yes, another paranormal romance.  However, it’s supposed to be a comical one which will change things up a bit.
  • Life, The Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
    I’ve already read this, but I love love LOVE the Hitchhiker series, and didn’t (still don’t actually) own them all, so I’m fleshing out the “trilogy.”
  • Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres
    This memoir is by a woman whose fundamentalist Christian parents sent her to the same reform school in the Dominican Republic that my cousin’s parents sent her to, so I was intrigued.
  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang
    I realized I haven’t read much non-western lit lately, and I enjoyed the nonwestern lit I read in college.  This memoir is about three generations of Chinese women, and I think it looks really good!
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
    A classic scifi book that my nerdy friends have been berating me for not having read. 😉
  • Feed by M. T. Anderson
    A dystopian book about our heads being plugged into computers.  Right up my alley.

All those books and my personal library size hasn’t increased at all!  I encourage you guys to check Swaptree out.  The only costs associated are shipping, and you can print labels directly from the website for extra ease.  Each book costs around $2.46 to ship.

Have a nice long weekend, everyone!  Rock on Martin Luther King Jr!