Length: 240 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
From the publisher:
A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she’s convinced will follow them wherever they go–her husband. The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can’t imagine what the world holds outside their father’s polygamous compound. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley’s abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family. An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, AMITY & SORROW is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own.
Here’s what I thought:
Lots of bloggers have been talking about this book, and I can now chime in that I really enjoyed it, too. At its heart it is a story of family, the ties the bind us to other people (both literally and figuratively), and how hard it can be to break those ties–even when it is the right thing to do. It’s a sad book, fascinating even as it is heartbreaking, but I found it to be ultimately hopeful despite its dark subject matter.
Amaranth and her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, have escaped from the polygamous cult where they lived and which has been raided by the local police. They travel across the country to escape their husband and father, Zachariah, a charismatic preacher whose shadow seems to follow them no matter how far they run. The story alternates between the present time and the past, and it’s told through the alternating narration of Amaranth and Amity. The reader never gets Sorrow’s point of view, which must have been intentional on the part of the author to keep her a mysterious and unpredictable character.
Amaranth has lived in the “real world” and knows that many of the rules that have become so second nature to them are not really relevant outside of their cult. She has an easier time adjusting to the outside world, even as she struggles with the aftereffects of her brainwashing. Her daughters, however, have never known anything but the world of their family–which for them includes one father, fifty mothers, and many brothers and sisters. They have a much harder time adapting, in particular Sorrow, who is older and has been more traumatized as a result of her experiences.
Sorrow persists in wanting to return to their home and their father, even as her mother tries to convince her that their former way of life was not a healthy one. While Amaranth and Amity begin to form ties to their new family of Bradley, Dust, and the grandfather, Sorrow remains turned inward, rejecting even the support and care of her mother and sister.
As the novel progresses, we learn more about their experiences in the cult, and I could understand the appeal of a supportive, nurturing group of women who live off the land and revel in a strong relationship with their God and each other. There is almost a utopian quality to it, at least in its early days, but it becomes warped and wrong at the hands of Zachariah. By the end of the novel, it is evident that the cult has descended to such lows as to be evocative of hell itself.
While the ending is very disturbing, I did find there to be a ray of hope for some of the characters, and ultimately I found the book very moving. Recommended.
Thanks so much to NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a copy of this book.
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