Genre: Adult Memoir
Year Release: 2021
Listened to the audiobook
Trigger warnings (all of these are graphic): Child sexual abuse, rape, sexual assault, incest, suicidal ideation, murder, isolation, gaslighting, manipulation, abuse, trauma in the name of religion
I finished listening to this book days ago and have finally figured out how to talk about it. It’s not an easy story or an easy read. But the author’s note at the beginning outlines what Jones set out to do: tell a coming of an age story from the point of view of a girl who grew up in a religious cult. In that, it is successful. Heartbreakingly successful.
This is one of the most impressive pieces of narrative nonfiction I have ever read.
There’s a prologue which serves as a history of The Children of God, now known as the Family. It was founded by David Berg as an alternative to the hippie lifestyle. It started with its roots in Christianity, but quickly evolved into a justification of incest and child sexual abuse by some of its ranks at the very top. They still operate to this day, with the locations of the current heads completely unknown, despite efforts to bring them to justice.
With that context established, Jones begins telling the story of how she grew up. From her family on the run outside of Hong Kong to the establishment of their farm to the various teen groups, no stone gets unturned. And I constantly had to remind myself of Jones’ age during each moment. There is reflection, but it’s told in present tense. The reader sees the story unfold through the eyes and mind as a child with some of the perspective afforded with age and distance. There’s an honesty that shines from chapter to chapter. The perspective is painfully close and raw, so definitely keep in mind the trigger warnings while reading.
The journey to adulthood is harrowing. Watching Jones try to assimilate into contemporary American society with her experiences both within her family and the unique perspective that comes from charity works pulls the heart in a few direction. The maturity that accompanies it comes at such a cost, but the grace she affords herself is breathtaking. The book culminates with a beautiful message of reclaiming one’s agency and understanding boundaries shines some light at the end of the tunnel.