Book: Jesus Land
Author: Julia Scheeres
Published: 2005 (Counterpoint)
This is a memoir of how a young (white) girl and one of her adopted (black) brothers were sent to a Christian boot camp in the Dominican Republic when they were teenagers to basically humiliate the Jesus back into them and the bad behavior out.
I put the kids’ races in parenthesis because while it’s not the central issue, it’s a very close second that affects their lives as they grow up in the Midwest. A lot of the story sets up their childhood and teen years, which is great because it shows how conflicted they were and how their militant parents took their kids’ fairly normal behavior for rebellion that had to be quashed.
Their older brother was in fact a bad kid, and although the argument could be made that he got that way from abandonment issues from his biological parents met by over-strictness from his adopted ones, I can’t have the sympathy for him that I have for the younger siblings because the older brother sexually abuses the sister for most of her teenage years.
When she and her younger brother start their own misbehavior, like stealth drinking and smoking and hanging out with the weirdos at first because they’re the only ones who’ll accept them but staying because they get hooked on the stuff they do, I find it really interesting that the girl makes casual mentions of still believing in God and worrying about what he thinks of all of it.
But most of that vanishes into the jungle haze when her younger brother is shipped off and she takes the chance to join him after she’s caught at some juvenile delinquency. The camp is strict and hypocritical and demeaning, and most of the kids there pretend and tattle their way through levels of responsibility and privilege until it’s decided they’re done. It’s not overly shocking, but it’s bad, but the camp never does get closed down and eventually the lady re-visits the campus as a journalist and gets no more answers than she did as an attendee.
It was a good clear read. She’s got a handle on her teenage emotions and how those extremes made the camp feel even more like a prison than it already objectively was and how her upbringing blew up her discretions into things she could barely ever make up for and how that drove her deeper into more dangerous behavior because why not when you’re already not going to be forgiven, right, and her slow realization that this wasn’t normal and that she could run away to something that was.