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Holy Roller by Diane Wilson
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Jan 10, 2009

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Holy Roller is the childhood memoir of former shrimp boat captain and current activist Diane Wilson. It is a follow up to her 2005 memoir An Unreasonable Woman, which details her fight against chemical plants and a multi-billion dollar corporation (Formosa Plastics) upon learning her Texas county was the number one toxic polluter in the United States. Holy Roller invites readers into the world of shrimping and praying that made Wilson the “unreasonable” woman she is today.

As one can gather from the book’s title, the story focuses on Wilson’s upbringing in an intensely religious community, and how she ultimately quits loving the blue-eyed Jesus she’d been told to put her faith in for the first years of her life. Wilson’s story is relatable because, at some point, most adults were once gullible children, believing in everything from Santa Claus to the Tooth Fairy to whatever god their family might believe in. Wilson is a particularly gullible child; she believes everything she is told, quite literally, which is endearing to a fault.

The main plot of the story involves the murder of her uncle, Archie Don, and her grandfather Chief’s search for Don’s killer. Chief enlists Wilson’s help to complete the task, and the result is more than a girl her age can take. In the end, she experiences a sort of psychotic break, thinking the actor Anthony Perkins (best known for his role as Norman Bates in the original Psycho) is speaking to her, which doesn’t sit well with her family.

Her tipping point comes after realizing that the only thing years of believing in God gave her is guilt. In the Church of Jesus Loves You, every bad thing that happens is because a person’s faith isn’t strong enough. As Wilson’s grandma tells her, “If you’re asking Jesus for a Rolls-Royce, but you only got bicycle faith, guess what you’ll get? A bicycle!”

Though the women in Holy Roller all practice religions that preach their submission, most of them are as strong as any of the male characters. In particular, Wilson’s Aunt Silver and grandma are tough, take-charge women. Aunt Silver believes in leadership roles for women in religious communities, and her grandma (a widow, which she credits to her own “bicycle faith”) makes her living by shrimp heading, and is known as the fastest in the fish house.

Holy Roller has a great variety of examples of strong women coming out of adversity—a tried and true tale—and Wilson’s story in particular is an entertaining and satisfying read.

Review by Jill Hindenach

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