White hands holding a worn-down book

About the Book

Title: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Published: 2015
Swoonworthy Scale: 6

Cover Story: Jewel
BFF Charm: Heck Yes!
Talky Talk: Take Me Back to the Start
Bonus Factors: Prison, Cult, The Handless Maiden
Relationship Status: Whirlwind Romance

Cover Story: Jewel

There are some images that I like as photos but not as YA book covers; this is one such instance. It’s a striking visual, with the hands looking like they could be either opening the book or tearing it in half, embodying Minnow’s struggles with her own faith. 

But minor details are incorrect, like the colors of Minnow’s dress and the Book of Prophecies cover, and the aged pages of the weathered book has me thinking that the story is historical or in some way non-contemporary. Plus, these hands are small, I know, but they’re not Minnow’s, either. 

The Deal:

Settle in and crank up the Cypress Hill, y’all — it’s about to get INSANE IN THE MEMBRANE. 

After spending most of her life in a sequestered cult, 17-year-old Minnow Bly’s freedom is short-lived when she ends up in a juvenile detention center. With the cult’s prophet murdered and its camp destroyed, it’s obvi that Minnow knows more than she lets on.

Oh, and did I mention the part about Minnow having no hands because the cult CHOPPED THEM OFF? You can commence forever screaming now. 

BFF Charm: Heck Yes!

BFF Charm Heck Yes - sparklier and shinier than the original BFF Charm

Even though common sense tells me that I’d approach a real-life Minnow with caution — hands or not, girlfriend can and will EFF YOU UP — I can’t help loving her anyway. In addition to having gone through a shizz load in her short life, Minnow now has to deal with constantly being underestimated because of her new disability. While she might be handless, she sure ain’t helpless (nor humourless). Separation from the cult that has controlled most of her life has also allowed Minnow to think for herself again, and her insatiable curiosity won’t be denied any longer. You do you, Minnow!

Similarly, Real Me would probably be too chicken to befriend a lifer like her cellmate, Angel, whom I adore on the page. Angel uses my favorite kind of #NoFilter, i.e., she always speaks her often-hilarious mind, and she’s a not-so-secret Carl Sagan–loving science geek. HEART EYES EMOJI. 

Swoonworthy Scale: 6

The book makes no qualms about Minnow and Jude’s romance being a tragic one, with wistful sadness looming over the glimpses into their history. Luckily, the anticipation of the other shoe dropping doesn’t rob the relationship of all its sweetness — or steaminess.

Talky Talk: Take Me Back to the Start

Set in the present day, the story follows Minnow’s incarceration, with flashbacks unraveling the mysteries of her past. From the beginning, the general plot might be clear — Minnow lost her hands, escaped from the cult, and did something terrible to end up in juvie —but the details surrounding how it all went down are not. Letting the reader know what happens in the big picture while still managing to sneak in some surprises requires a certain artfulness, which debut author Stephanie Oakes totally has. 

I’d also like to point out that reading this book made me so acutely aware of my own hands. Never have I been more grateful for my phalanges.

Bonus Factor: Prison

Various prisoners in tan prison jump suits watching TV from Orange is the New Black

OK, perhaps this is a little mislabeled, as 1) prison isn’t really a bonus anything, and 2) Minnow is technically at a juvenile detention center. Semantics aside, juvie can be a pretty tough place, with its own set of politics and norms for Minnow to learn. Although these young women aren’t and shouldn’t be defined by their crimes, the reminders of “NOPE, that girl totally committed a crime” are still as inescapable as the prison that holds them.

Bonus Factor: Cult

From an outsider’s perspective, everything about the extremely patriarchal Kevinian cult is pretty ridic: its dubious origins of some dude claiming to talk to God setting up camp in the woods; its flimsy excuse for keeping female members illiterate to protect them from “wicked writings”; and even down to its name being derived from its leader named—you guess it—Kevin. (And why, oh why, do cults always insist on marrying child brides off to polygamous creepy old dudes? I mean, I know why. But WHYYYY.)

On top of all that, the Kevinians also cut off Minnow’s freaking hands. Needless to say, she’s not exactly the biggest fan of the community these days. But just because her people have betrayed her doesn’t mean Minnow’s completely given up on faith, as she continually bounces back and forth between it and science to make sense of the world around her.

Bonus Factor: The Handless Maiden

You know how there are the Disney-fied fairy tales, and then there are the gruesome original versions? Minnow Bly is loosely based upon the Brothers Grimm’s The Handless Maiden, which definitely won’t be adapted into a heartwarming animated musical anytime soon. 

Relationship Status: Whirlwind Romance

From the very first moment my eyes locked onto the words of this book, I was hooked. With its fearless heroine serving as a tour guide, I was equal parts fascinated and horrified by its dark, twisted world — and grateful to witness her breaking free from it. This book was over before I knew it, but its story will linger in my mind long afterward.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Dial. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.