Sunday, July 12, 2009

Best memoir about adolescence and racism EVER!

I grabbed a copy of "Jesus Land: A Memoir" on Friday out of a one dollar bin at a bookstore. I just finished it tonight.

I seem to always be just behind the curve of cultural phenomenons, and vaguely remember reading a review of this book in 2005 when it hit the literature circuit and Julia Scheeres' searing novel started picking up awards right and left.

"Jesus Land" is Julia's recollection of her childhood and adolescents growing up in a family run by fanatically strict fundamentalist Christian parents. But really it's about her adopted brother, David, who was African American and brought home by the author's parents when he was three where he became, in her words, 'my twin.'

Gentle, nerdy David's encounters with violent bigots become Julia's and the racism starts early. Part way through the book, Julia recounts the first time white kids try and beat them up ... they are just 8 years old.

In their teens, their parents relocate to rural Indiana, the upper domain of the Bible Belt where the locals treat David, and Julia by association, with anything but Christian kindness.

When Julia's other adopted brother, Jerome (the opposite of David in every way except his skin color), gets sent to prison, their parents ship David and then Julia to a fundamentalist Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic to "turn them around".

Julia Scheeres' description of life in Escuela Caribe doesn't read like a typical teen's recollection of boarding school or even a stint in juvenile detention. It's more like a Vietnamese POW camp. There's sleep deprivation, beatings, endless psychological torture and even typhoid.

If you only read one non-fiction book all this year, read this one.

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