Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Jesus Land: A Memoir by Julie Scheeres

Julie Scheeres had a shitty childhood. Now you might think you've had a shitty childhood and feel you could hold your own in the Shitty Childhood Championships but, unless you have a particularly harrowing story or were her brother David, it is unlikely to be as shitty as Scheeres. She grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household with parents who she paints as unloving and scary. Her father beat her adopted brothers brutally. Her mother had an intercom system set up so she could monitor conversations anywhere in the house.

She also experienced sexual abuse from her older adoptive brother, Jerome, who made her young life a living hell. Meanwhile her brother David suffered racist abuse on an almost daily basis growing up in "Hicksville" as a black adopted member of a white family.

And what did the two of them get for their troubles? They got sent to Escuela Caribe, a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic, where they were subjected to emotional and physical abuse "for their own good".

Sounds like a depressing book right? But instead Scheeres manages to maintain a balanced look back on her youth weaving in humourous episodes and giving full and balanced perspectives on all involved (rather than the deeply bitter perspective one could reasonably accept from someone who has been through what she went through). But above all else the love she had for her brother David shines through and this book is really a story about how they stuck it out together dreaming of a better life.

This is a story of religious excess, abuse, racism and of family. And it is one I'll admit to shedding a tear over in the final pages. Scheeres really doesn't hold back much detail on what happened to her which gives this book the credibility that many memoirs I've read recently desperately lack.

There's more on the abusive atmosphere at Escuela Caribe here.

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