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Amity & Sorrow

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Amity & Sorrow is a story about God, sex, and farming. It's an unforgettable journey into the horrors a true believer can inflict upon his family, and what it is like to live when the end of the world doesn't come.

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.

313 pages, Hardcover

First published April 16, 2013

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Peggy Riley

4 books27 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 568 reviews
June 5, 2013
Normally I am drawn into books about the polygamist lifestyle as I find it very interesting. For some reason, this book just didn't satisfy that curiosity. The plot was interesting but the author failed in the delivery as there are many different areas she could have explored. This would have been a much better book if more time was spent on the past lives of these women rather than their boring escape.

The book's pacing was VERY SLOW but then again why hurry when it's going no where. The writing style was very disjointed. At times I had to flip back several pages to see if I missed something or who was being referred to. The characters were very underdeveloped and unlikeable. Needless to say I felt no connection with any of them.

I forced myself to finish this book hoping that something would happen or the ending would rectify the rest of the book. HAHA wishful thinking. I wish now that I would have thrown it into the DNF pile instead of wasting my time.

Overall this book was very disappointing. I had high hopes for it when I requested to review it. I wouldn't recommend this book as you would only be wasting your time and possibly money.

Received this book from NetGalley for my free and honest review.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,686 reviews14k followers
April 17, 2013
Cults, members of cults, a mother and her two daughters, a farmer in Oklahoma and his somewhat adopted son, Rust,and an old man, these are the characters that make up this debut novel. I found the writing addictive, this novel taught me more than any other book about the reasons people join cults and the effect that being the member of a polygamous cult has on its people. Amity, who is twelve, is the main narrator and we see the world through her eyes. When her mother takes her and her sister escaping from the cult and a fire that has a devastating impact, the girls are lost. Having been raised in the cult the older sister Sorrow, wants only to go back to what she has known. I can't quite figure out if Sorrow is just really messed up from this cult or is she is a psychopath or both, but she was one very messed up character. We see through Amity's eyes as she eats her first doritto, sees a television for the first time and meets a boy who is not her brother. There is a perfect balance in this novel between looking back and experiencing now. I found it a very powerful book, one where questions are inferred in the beginning and the reader is slowly lead to the answer. Charity and love are sharply contrasted against greed and selfishness. The ending is a revelation and one that ends with a sense of hope.
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 26 books293 followers
May 18, 2013
I couldn't stand this book for many reasons.

1. I'm all about STRONG women and this does not contain one. I was expecting the adventure of a group of a women smart enough to up and walk away from a cult and while the mother took her daughters away, she is so brainwashed and dumb and was such an ENABLER all along, turning a blind eye to the most ridiculous of crap (Fields are evil??? WTF?) that I could feel no pity for her.

2. Some should have just offed Sorrow. She's a menace to society and the most brainwashed of all. She's psychotic. No pity for her and her "oracle" garbage either.

3. While I felt there was hope for Amity, as long as she continues to kiss her sister's behind, she won't go anywhere.

There wasn't a single strong woman in this.

4. I wanted to know WHY the mom was into this cult in the first place. It wasn't adequately explained.

5. The prose/setting/gas station/pan handle of OK, it all felt very 1950s. I mean, really, no phone? But this was supposed to be a modern-day story. It continuously threw me off.

This was a miss for me. Sorry.
Profile Image for Erin.
2,817 reviews494 followers
April 23, 2017
If you're in the mood for a light beach read, this is NOT the book for you. Neither will a reader find much light hearted cheerfulness within these pages. "Amity& Sorrow" is a book about 2 young teenage girls and their mother fleeing from a polygamous community. It is a rather ambitious novel and the writing style does take some getting used to.
In the early stages of reading the book, I was torn between putting the book down and continuing onward. I am happy to say that I chose the latter and began to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Although the book's title refers to the two young daughters, it was their mother, Amaranth, who compelled me to continue reading. Her narrative allowed the readers to get to the back story of how everything began. At times, the book is hard to read but well worth the finish.
Profile Image for Tania.
1,170 reviews266 followers
September 12, 2014
Two sisters sit, side by side, in the backseat of an old car. Amity and Sorrow. Their hands are hot and close together. A strip of white fabric loops between them, tying them together, wrist to wrist.

This was a beautifully written debut novel about the ties that bind. It’s a story of God, sex and farming. Amaranth and her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, flees from a religious sect, where she was the first of 50 wives to Zachariah, a self-proclaimed prophet. They end up in rural Oklahoma, where they live on a farmer's porch. Through flashbacks we also find out how Amaranth got involved in the sect, and how things slowly started falling apart, to the point where they find out that Sorrow is pregnant.

Although this is an easy read, it is quite a complex book. It focuses on so many different issues. For me the individual issues were the ones that really affected me. As a child it must be so difficult to condemn a way of living if this is the only life you've ever lived. What about if you were an oracle, very special and revered in your previous life, and now people expect you to be happy with being a normal teenager. And the thing is you can't even act like your normal, because you’re illiterate, and know nothing at all about the world. And worst of all your father, the mouthpiece of God, is suddenly seen as worse than evil. There is so much more to say, but I think the author says it best. I highly recommend this to everyone who enjoys a story that stays with you long after you’ve closed the book.

Not everyone wants to be saved.

*Netgalley copy
Profile Image for Patrice Hoffman.
552 reviews253 followers
April 16, 2013
There comes a book that simply makes you think. Amity & Sorrow is definitely the type of book that makes me think about religion, family, mothers, sisters, and home. Peggy Riley has managed to make a beautiful novel from some pretty difficult subjects such as incest, polygamy, cults, and abuse. Riley manages to make this novel not one of sadness or lasciviousness yet still tell the truth in a very insightful, truthful way.

Amaranth and her daughters, Amity and Sorrow, are found by a farmer named Bradley after having crashed their car on his property. Amaranth's been driving for four days straight to put as much distance between herself and her husband Zacariah of whom she is afraid will find her. Bradley is a little taken aback by the woman and her girls dress and the fact that they are bined together by fabric. Bradley is unable to conceal his concern or his crabby nature. Bradley offers them refuge at his home until they can evaluate what to do and where to go.

Early in this novel Riley subjects the readers to one of the major issues that concerns this novel Sorrow's miscarraige in a gas station bathroom. Although Riley makes it evident that there is something amiss with this family and that perhaps they have been abused maybe sexually, physically, and mentally. Riley slowly pulls down the layers that are these people we meet on their way to finding a new life.

The characters in this novel are especially well drawn and have such depth and richness. Bradley, the widow, was my favorite character. I loved his honesty in telling Amaranth to get her self together and she's the reason her children are the way they are. Amaranth's character explores the depth's a mother will go to in order to protect her children and family. Amity is only one ready to move forward but she's still evidently naive. Sorrow is just what she is named for. She longs to be back at the temple with her father who she believes is the only true preacherman. I don't blame her for the way she is but I found her to be very defective and inexorable. She reminds me of a lot of people in my family that are "super" Christians in regards to her belief in her faith.

The book switches between the past and the present seemlessly. I'm happy that Riley included the past and how Amaranth came to be a part of a religious cult. That is always the first thing on anyone's mind. The next is how/why did you leave. Amaranth's story is similar to nonfiction accounts of how she became an accomodating first of 50 wives.

Amity & Sorrow is a culmination of a lot of ideas that can be discussed and researched for ever. I've tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible. So I conclude by saying that I did like this book a lot with its clever plot and poetic lines. The ending was perfect, although a little dreadful, but I don't see how it could have ended any better. Lover's of women's literature will need to read this book.

Profile Image for Jane.
820 reviews608 followers
March 20, 2013
The idea was intriguing, but it was the opening that captured me.

A woman driving, desperate to escape her past, with her two daughters who were much less certain about whether they should go, whether they should leave the only home they had ever known.

Amity & Sorrow HBK dark.inddAfter four days they stopped. Because, and only because, Amaranth crashed the car. She had no money and no idea what to do. A local farmer found them. He noticed their strange dress, their rather old-fashioned manners, but he didn’t comment. He didn’t want to get involved. But he did agree they can stay on his land just for a few days.

Amaranth was fleeing a cult, its temple was being destroyed by fire. She was the first of the fifty wives of the prophet, and mother of two daughters. Amity and Sorrow. Sorrow has a special place at their temple. She was the oracle, the one heard and then spoke the word of God. Amity had no such status, but she was good hearted, and she had a gift for healing.

Two stories unfold. The story of how Amaranth became the wife of the prophet, and all that followed. And the story of how she left and what followed.

The narrative which moves fluidly between the present and
the past, and though the story is harrowing it is told with sensitivity and understanding.

It offers much to think about.

Mother and daughters were pulling in different directions. Amaranth wanted a new life but couldn’t let go of her memories and her old concerns. Amity wanted to leave the past behind, once and for all. And all Sorrow wanted to go back, and stay in the place where she new she belonged.

Amity and Sorrow had to cope with a world different to everything they knew. They had never spoken with anyone outside the extended family that grew around their father, the prophet before. They have never handled money, never been to school, never walked in the country.

There were so many things that their life had not prepared them for. And yet they had such faith in the world. That faith was a welcome counter-balance to many disturbing truths that would emerged.

It worked because, for all the strangeness of the situation, the characters, their dialogues and their actions rang completely true.

The story unfolded slowly, growing in depth and complexity, and it pulled me in completely.

I came to understand what had drawn Amaranth in to the cult, why she had stayed, and in the end why she had to leave.

The style, just a little formal, a little odd, suited the story perfectly. And the balance, between what was told and what needed to be worked out, was exactly right.

The story asked some difficult questions, and the final chapters offered a fitting conclusion but no easy answers.

But I don’t have the words to explain, and I don’t want to explain. If you’re at all curious you really should find a copy of this book and consider them too.

Because the words that do come into my mind are these: a distinctive and thought-provoking first novel.
Profile Image for Kwoomac.
811 reviews32 followers
April 24, 2013
Amity and Sorrow tells the story of a family growing up in a cult in Utah. There is just one man, Zachariah, the fifty women he takes as wives and the more than twenty children he fathers. Zachariah goes out in search of lost women, promising them a safe haven. They live off the grid so now one really knows what's going on out there.

The story is told from the perspective of Amaranth. She was his first wife, saved by Zachariah when she was just eighteen and already struggling to survive. When Zachariah starts accumulating wives, she is too afraid of the real world to challenge him. Time passes. Zachariah's god-complex blooms. The ideal world Amaranth had escaped to has morphed into a warped world with overly strict rules for the women, but none for Zachariah.

Amaranth does escape with her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow. Amity is 12. I'm not sure about Sorrow's age. She's older than Amity, but I'm not sure by how much. The story follows their attempt to function out in the world. This is hard for Amaranth, but more so for the girls who have been brainwashed to believe Zachariah's way is the only way. How they adjust is both fascinating and heart breaking.

The characters were well-written. I really cared not only about Amaranth and her daughters, but also about many of the others, who are fully realized even as minor characters. You'll be left thinking about their stories as well. I loved the old man, Dust, and Hope. A moving, thought-provoking story. I wish I were in a book club to really talk this one out.

(In choosing what shelves to put this on, I struggled with "worst mother ever" but ultimately decided that Amaranth was a victim along with her daughters and I just couldn't judge her too harshly.)
Profile Image for Naomi.
4,679 reviews138 followers
May 21, 2013
Read my full review: http://bit.ly/13ID9uT

My opinion: Although I had liked the general story of this book, I couldn't get past the writing style of this author. Although I do feel it was intentional to fit the storyline, I really couldn't get used to it. There was just something off to it that I can't at this immediate time put my finger on. Now, I have to admit that I have Goodreads friends who loved the writing style which was present in this book.

On a side note: Although I was approved for this title by Little Brown and Company, I found that I enjoyed the print version better. I started it on my ereader, but finished it with a library copy. I must admit that I didn't have as hard of a time with the writing style in the print version as I did in the ereader version.
Profile Image for Blair.
1,726 reviews4,081 followers
March 11, 2016
Amity & Sorrow opens on a dramatic scene, as a mother, Amaranth, and her two children - teenage Sorrow and twelve-year-old Amity - find themselves stranded in an isolated petrol station. After four days of driving, Amaranth has crashed her car and has no option but to accept help from Bradley, the farmer who owns the surrounding land, and Dust, the boy who works for him. It soon becomes clear that the trio have fled from a cult-like religious community, where Amaranth was the first of fifty 'wives' to the leader Zachariah. Mystery surrounds their departure - who started the fire that forced them to leave, and what has suddenly made Amaranth so determined to run as far away as possible after so many years? Meanwhile, Sorrow is equally determined to get back to her father, while Amity is both intensely curious about this new world and totally in thrall to her older sister.

I was really interested in the plot of this book and felt there were so many interesting avenues it could potentially explore. Who isn't fascinated by the mentality of cult leaders and members? Unfortunately, Amity & Sorrow fell far short of my expectations. I was surprised, upon doing a bit of research, to find that the author is a debut novelist who, although born in the US, is now settled in the UK. The reason for this is that the book has such an old-fashioned, traditional feel about it: despite the controversial and sometimes shocking subject matter, the main focus is often on domestic details such as the companionship between the 'wives', the everyday difficulties of farming, and the development of a tentative relationship between Amaranth and Bradley. I wouldn't have been surprised to discover it had been penned by a seasoned writer who had written a number of novels about small-town and rural American life. I guess this is an achievement in itself - maybe it's what Riley was aiming for, and if so then she deserves praise for recreating that particular type of storytelling so effectively. However, this kind of writing isn't of interest to me at all, and I was constantly frustrated by the lack of insight the narrative method provided into the characters' motivations and feelings.

Sorrow is, in a number of ways, the centre of every major event of the book: the plot revolves around her actions. However, she isn't given her own voice - instead, there's a third-person narrative which switches its focus between Amaranth and Amity - and remains a frustratingly enigmatic character. I found some of Sorrow's behaviour extremely difficult to understand, even after the revelations about her past, and thought her relationship with Zachariah should have been explored further. I had the same difficulty understanding exactly why Amaranth (and so many other women) had been drawn to this way of life, or why she had chosen to stay for so long, or why she didn't .

While the themes of this book fascinated me, I found the narrative and characters as dry and arid as the parched landscape surrounding Bradley's farm. I struggled to believe in so many things about the story, from major plot points to small, but interesting, details (such as why Amaranth chose to keep wearing the cumbersome clothing she had been required to wear in her old life). I think it was written for a very different audience than me, or at least it reads that way. This book has had a lot of positive reviews, and I think a lot of readers would get much more out of it than I did, but I can't really recommend it at all.
Profile Image for Anne.
2,040 reviews1,028 followers
August 22, 2012
Although Amity & Sorrow is a fairly short novel at just 284 pages in the advance paperback edition, it is an intense and at times very difficult story to read. The subject matter is quite harrowing, and a subject that is rarely touched upon in fiction, and the writing is quite unique and distinct - it takes a little while to get used to the style.

Amaranth and her two daughters; Amity and Sorrow are fleeing their home, they have driven across country for four days and the only reason that they have stopped is because Amaranth has crashed the car. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, not knowing where they are, or where to go, they are discovered by Brad - a farmer who seems unconcerned by their plight, doesn't comment on their strange dress and allows them to camp out on his land.

Amaranth cannot let go of her memories and despite the fact that she knows that she had to flee, her thoughts return time and time again to her husband; the father of her girls. Amaranth is his first wife, the first of his 50 wives and she was instrumental in establishing the cult that they have left behind. Amity and Sorrow have no idea what it is like to speak with ordinary people, to allow anyone to see their hair, to walk through a field. They have no conception of what is acceptable behaviour in the real world. All they have known is life as part of a huge family, with rules, with terror, with abuse.

Amity relishes this new world, but Sorrow wants nothing more than to return to her father and their old life.

A lot of this story is told in 'flash back' form - when Amaranth remembers their life and how they were treated. The reader has quite a lot of reading between the lines to do - as events emerge slowly and are often hinted at, rather than explained fully.

Reading Amity and Sorrow reminded me of watching films by director M Night Shyamalan, especially the film The Village. There is a darkness about the writing and about the story that can be quite creepy at times.

Amity and Sorrow is an intriguing story with an ending that is unexpected and quite shocking and leaves the reader with lots of questions.

Peggy Riley is an accomplished author, with an unusual and quite quirky writing style that although fairly difficult to engage with at the beginning, becomes enchanting by the end.
Profile Image for Janet.
248 reviews60 followers
January 26, 2013
She didn’t know that preparing for the end of the world would make it that much more likely to come.

Amaranth is the first of the fifty wives of the prophet, and mother of two daughters, Amity and Sorrow. Sorrow is the eldest and holds a special place at their temple. She is the oracle, the one who transmits the word of God to the congregation. Amity is the younger sister, less zealous and sweeter tempered, with a gift for healing.

The children don’t go to school, don’t know their address, don’t know how to read, don’t know anything not decreed by the prophet. This ignorance is encouraged as a way of keeping the group off the radar of outside society, who might object and attempt to intervene, especially when it comes to the children.

But the prophet’s behavior is increasingly erratic, and a police officer does come knocking at the door. The ensuing confrontation spins out of control and Amaranth, fearing for their lives, takes a car and flees with her children.

It takes all Amaranth’s courage to leave, and she is haunted by the feeling that the prophet is in pursuit. She is unused to the outside world, not to mention driving, and soon crashes in the area of Oklahoma known as no man’s land. There they are offered refuge by Bradley, a struggling farmer, and Dust, his ward.

Amaranth struggles to rebuild a life for her family. This is a hard task, complicated even more by Sorrow’s fury at being forced to leave the only home she’s ever known. She is determined to return to what she knows is her rightful place as a religious leader and is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve this, no matter the consequences.

The resulting struggle between Amaranth and Sorrow is primal and riveting. Amity is caught in the middle, which turns out to be a dangerous place.

This is not an easy story, but I found its depiction of life within a cult gripping and memorable. Peggy Riley’s writing is lean and evocative. The narrative switches back and forth between the present day and flashbacks of how Amaranth came to join the prophet and what finally made her leave. The wonder of Amity at the outside world is beautifully conveyed. The portrait of the world of Amaranth and the prophet gives the reader a taste of a world with few familiar moorings. A memorable story of faith and redemption.

Profile Image for Lyn (Readinghearts).
322 reviews15 followers
June 5, 2013
The current cultural spotlight on polygamous cults has peaked my interest in the subject, and it was for this reason that I decided to accept the invitation of Little, Brown and Company to read an ARC of Amity & Sorrow: A Novel ,Peggy Riley's debut novel, and review it. I started the book with trepidation as several of my friends thought that it was just okay. At first I thought I would agree, but the more I got into the story, the more that I realized that this book was going to be one that spoke to me on a certain level.

The success of cults in our culture is a subject that has fascinated me for quite a while. For this reason I am drawn to books where the cult phenomena takes center stage. I admit, my purpose in reading these stories is to try to shed some light on why cults are so successful.

Amaranth is the first wife of Zachariah, the patriarch of a polygamous cult. The central story in this book revolves around what happens to her when she decides to flee the cult and take her two daughters, Amity & Sorrow, with her. The three of them end up in Oklahoma, stuck on a farm in the middle of nowhere with the man who owns the farm, his father, and his adopted son. The compelling story of what transpires between the girls, their mother, and the inhabitants of the farm, and how it transforms the lives of everyone involved, is only half of the story, though. The other half of the story is about their life in the cult, which is told through the memories of the three characters that escaped the cult. It is this part of the story where the author attempts to answer the basic question about the psychology of a cult that is my prime fascination. These two sides of Amity & Sorrow's story and the way that the author was able to successfully entwine them was what drew me into this book.

I also liked the way that the author used the characters of Amaranth, Sorrow, Amity, Bradley, his father, and Dust to represent the various layers of the story. Through the individual stories of these characters we see the contrast between the world of the true believer, the world of the non believer, and the world of those still trying to make up their minds.

When discussing this book with friend, the most common negative comment that I came across was the author's unconventional writing style. I do admit, the writing style was different, and for the first few chapters I found it a bit distracting. After I got into the story, though, it ceased being something to overcome and became an integral part of the story as a whole. In fact, as the story continued, I felt that the author's writing style, like the behavior of some of the main characters, became less strange and more -- normal, for want of a better word.

All in all, I found this book, its characters, and what it had to say about the psychology of a cult interesting. It showed me various sides of a question that fascinates me, and took me on a journey that I was glad to take. I thank Little, Brown and Company for the opportunity to read and review it.
Profile Image for Wanda Hartzenberg.
Author 6 books69 followers
June 27, 2013
Amity and Sorrow
Peggy Riley
A Debut novel and an impressive one at that.
I could not resist this book once it became available for review.
The subject matter has always been one that fascinated me.
I loved the story. The pace is fast, the world building genuine and extremely disturbing.
The writing style itself took me some time to get used to but by the end of the book it added to the plot and no longer distracted.
The disturbing life story interspersed with humor was a fascinating read.
Kindle purchase link

Profile Image for Jules.
1,042 reviews184 followers
May 25, 2021
Initially, I loved the sound of this book, and although the story was intriguing, the characters didn't work for me. I thought it was going to be a story full of tension, girl power and the fight for female independence. Instead, I was faced with a neglectful mother I wanted to shake sense into, one daughter that was a psychotic mess, and another that was too weak for her own good. Some of the topics were heavy. On occasions I enjoyed what I was reading, but never felt all that engrossed in the story, or excited to pick it back up, which is a shame, as I had high hopes for this one.
Profile Image for Lou.
879 reviews852 followers
April 19, 2013
The devout and the devilish, they take centre stage in this tale, which characters fit that description would not be hard to surmise once completing this story.
Amity and Sorrow two sisters born into a family that consists of many mothers and one father. This was a really engrossing tale, the narrative has you really in the tale, with the right words usage and just the right sentencing, the author will have you captivated in the uncovering of the bizarre world that the two girls were raised in and now on the run due to their mothers decline of faith in a self professed chosen one, a father, a husband , a man with fifty five wives and twenty seven children.
The mother, Amaranth, was the first wife and she soon sees that she has been controlled and brain washed into her husbands world view. Their are many shocking and tragic things to learn of in their days of before when they were all living under one roof under his control. A mothers concern for one daughter in particular, Sorrow, is the real reason for her fleeing as she learned that the home was not that quite working as she learned and her daughter was in more danger than she knew.
You heart goes out to these children trapped and unaware of knowledge being played against them in their naïveté, you will want to follow them to the end. Can she convince her daughters of the sin that their father represents or will she loose them to him out of their love for the chosen one?
There are some humorous moments in the story, for example due the two girls finding themselves for the first time amongst civilization they know not of tv and books and in this story their is one scene where Amity is advised on a book to read, read her reaction to this in this excerpt,

"You ever heard of a Mr. John Steinbeck?" the devil says.
"No, sir."
"Dumb and ignorant to boot. This ain't no Bible. This here book is The Grapes of Wrath. You heard of that?"
"Not exactly."
"Either you has or you hasn't"
"God the Father says that anyone worshiping the beast will receive a mark on her forehead and drink the wine of God's wrath and that must be pressed from His grapes of wrath, sir."
"Well," says the devil. "Maybe you ain't entirely dumb. Just mostly. You all are dumb for God, ain't you?"
Amity nods. She supposes they must be. She could hardly hope to keep a thing like that from the devil."

There are times when this novel takes me back, into remembering that great story Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor.
This story was written with a great fluid prose style that fits the whole pace and events, an excellent debut that made me feel part of the drama in the characters shoes.
One story and many memorable characters to remain in ones heart and mind for many a day.

"When they reach the house, the three females fear it. Not for the look of the place, a gap-toothed, rough-hewn, clapboard two-story, painted white a long, long time ago. Not for the four windows, up and down, dark and empty as sockets. Not for the porch that sags beneath it or the old, scabby tree that grows to the side of it, branches arching over to smother the roof. They would fear any house. When the man pulls open a screen door it groans on its hinges. When he pushes in the front door, so that all of them can see inside the dark mouth of his house, they shiver. They are forbidden to go in. It is a rule."

"All great journeys are made in faith. The pilgrim over dark seas, the immigrant to new lands, the pioneer to a salt-baked lake. Faith calls the native to the spirit walk, the vision quest, but Amaranth can only hope, in retrospect, that hers is a great journey.
Six days since she left her husband, nearly one week since she ran, and she cannot help but feel that God Himself has crashed her here. He certainly seems less than keen on showing her a way out, as if He is holding her until her husband can catch up."

"The woman withdraws it, sticky, and leans down to her. "You need something, sweetie?"
"The house of the Grapes of Wrath" she says. And when the lady tries to leave, she sings out, "Library! Library!" remembering the old man's name for it.
When she gets to the door, she knows it is the best of temples—dark and lit by small windows, where motes spin in shafts of light like tiny angels and the quiet hush of pages turning, soft as cloth on boards. A woman stands at its center instead of an oracle, with long purple hair and a silver star on her chest.
Amity walks to her and speaks in her bravest voice, loud and clear. "I have come for your Grapes of Wrath"

Review also @ http://more2read.com/review/amity-sorrow-a-novel-by-peggy-riley/

Profile Image for Sarah Beth.
881 reviews31 followers
October 7, 2013
I received a copy of this book from Net Galley.

I've read several novels that deal with polygamy and always found them interesting so I was drawn to this novel about a mother and her two teenage daughters who are fleeing from their polygamous compound. Amarenth was one of fifty wives, but decided to flee her husband when she finds proof that her husband is not as honorable and honest as she once thought. Yet her daughters Amity and Sorrow have never known a life outside of polygamy - they cannot read, they have never heard of a map, and have never seen a working television. "No phone, no electricity. They cooked with propane and heated their house and outbuildings with wood from their forests. They weren't on the grid." The family ends up with farmer Bradley after wreaking their car in Oklahoma, and struggle to adjust to life after the compound.

I had a hard time connecting with the characters of this book, in part because this is written in a sort of dreamy language that alludes to its meaning rather than clarifying intent. Amaranth, previously called Amy, fell into the life of polygamy as a desperate and lonely teenager, who was tricked by her husband. She seems to fall for the polygamous life by degrees and inches, until the final straw forces her to confront the reality of what her life has become; "Who was her husband, who claimed to be God? Who was her child to believe him? Who was she to have sanctioned this when it all started so long ago, back when their faith was made of charity and compassion, a dream of creating a family for women who had no one? How had love led them here?"

Most distasteful is Sorrow, who fights her mother every step of the way in her attempt to be reunited with her father. Sorrow believes herself to an oracle and a chosen one. Sorrow is unforgivable in her willingness to hurt anyone that stands in her way, including her sister. Although Sorrow deserves some leeway because she simply longs for the only life she has ever known, her ruthlessness is unwarranted. I wondered the whole book how Amity, but especially Sorrow, could ever have a normal life after the childhood they had experienced. On the other hand, this seems more possible for Amity who is willing to break what were formerly rules in her old life and wishes to explore the new world she finds herself in.

All in all, I found the characterization in this weak and the relationships stilted. The use of flashbacks helped clarify details about why these women were fleeing, but I found the narrative style too metaphorical at times: "She can grow on his land and be planted. She can learn to root herself and hope to flower. She can plant what was sacred and see what would grow" Finally, I'm unsure of what sort of life Amity will know now that she and her mother have found freedom - in the form of a struggling farmer in the middle of rural Oklahoma who is struggling to provide for himself and his father, let alone taking on other people.
Profile Image for Amy.
90 reviews7 followers
September 17, 2013
This book was interesting, and I am still trying to put all the pieces together. I was interested in reading it because I have a number of other polygamist novels and they always intrigue me. I can honestly say that I got a polygamist perspective, but there were soooooooo many holes in the story that just didn't make sense. Ultimately, the book fell short of its goal!!

Here are some of the problems I found--
I saw no way in which Bradley was mourning the loss of his wife. He was just angry.

Amaranth is so caught up in her own world that she never stops to consider that her daughters need help. This was actually appalling to me. Her daughter was molested by her own father and she just lets it go. Not only that, she returns to the place of the crime. And then she leaves her daughter there!!!!!!!! What kind of fool?????

They land on a farm in the Midwest with no telephones, no Internet, an old black and white tv with rabbit ears, and no contact with the outside world. They aren't in Burma or any other third world country. It makes you imagine it is the 1950s. It just doesn't add up.

The gets small glimpses into Amaranth's life before she joined this man, but none of it really adds up. There were stupid rules like no going in the fields with no real explanation of why.

The most disturbing aspect of this story (yes, I am going to discuss it again) is the fact that this mother has no regard for these children she tried to save. She doesn't have any idea what is going on with Sorrow and how much pain she is in. But even worse is that her daughter Amity is suffering psychotic episodes and harming others, but the mother seems oblivious to it. She has no concern for anything but getting food. And then she sleeps with Bradley which further complicates the issues. After she goes back to the scene of the crime, she leaves her daughter and doesn't even go to the police!!!! What kid of idiot would do this.

In the end, though I found the story intriguing, I found it ultimately disturbing!
Profile Image for Jennifer Stephens.
84 reviews4 followers
May 4, 2013
Amity and Sorrow is quite the unusual novel by Peggy Riley. It opens on the scene of a mother, Amaranth, driving her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, down an Oklahoma country road. It quickly becomes evident that they are on the run from someone or something. Because the daughters are literally bound to one another via their arms in the backseat, and because the language is evocative of the south, I first assumed this was a story about an escape from slavery. Which it is, I suppose, but not in the traditional African slave trade context.

Amity and Sorrow are the daughters of a polygamous cult leader and his first wife (among many many wives). They've escaped from the cult’s homesteading compound in Utah following a police raid. As the story slowly unravels we learn more about the destructive power of the cult and their father’s leadership. The family is in shambles emotionally and financially and their cultural identity and experiences are very different than those of the people they encounter in the world outside of the compound.

The novel is dark and yet hopeful as we root for the transformation and healing of the young girls and their mother as we follow the novel to its conclusion. One of the daughters, Amity has been less twisted and less damaged by her time in the cult while Sorrow has been scarred deeply in so many ways it’s not clear she’s entirely redeemable.

While I enjoyed the plot and pacing of Riley’s novel, the dialogue at times seemed forced and artificial. As I mentioned previously, there is, at times, an ‘old southern world’ feel to the dialogue that doesn't fit the modern era the story is supposed to take place in. And the scenes surrounding first interactions with a computer and with other modern technology seem really quite contrived and plastic. Still, the novel can stand on its other merits. Overall 3 stars.
Profile Image for Renita D'Silva.
Author 10 books315 followers
October 25, 2013
I have mixed feelings about this book. Let me start with what I liked:
1) Peggy Riley's writing is beautiful. Love her style,spare yet stunning-a hard balance to achieve. Really enjoyed the descriptions, the sense of place.

2)The story is very original and compelling, it drew me in from the first page and I wanted to know what happened next.

3)I liked Bradley the farmer, his father the old man and his interactions with Amity and Sorrow, especially with Amity. I adored Dust and Amity. I even understood where Sorrow was coming from even though she is not a character one likes.

What I did not like:

Amaranth, the main character. I loathed her-could not forgive her her neglect of her children. I could, at a stretch, understand why she neglected them in the beginning when she was still with her husband. But later, when she had left, when she had all that time on her hands, time she spent with the farmer when her daughters needed her- that I couldn't get past. I was angry with her and kept on reading hoping she would come through, protect her daughters in the end.

The other thing I thought was not properly explained was why she was afraid of her husband.

I was ranting as I read to the point that my daughter asked me to stop reading the book then, if I hated it so much, but I needed to see it through. So, I suppose, in all, this book did arouse strong emotions, made me think, so if the author's intention was to incite an opinion from the reader she has succeeded.
Profile Image for Sonja Arlow.
1,063 reviews7 followers
July 31, 2013
We are introduced to Amaranth and her two daughters, Amity & Sorrow when they flee from their polygamist cult only to crash their car in the middle of nowhere. The background of these three then slowly unfolds showing disturbing & creepy details about the rules and abuse of cult life.

While the storyline was captivating, the way it was written made me feel completely disconnected with all of the characters. There was just something off about it that I cannot immediately put my finger on.

Only the last 1/3rd of the book provided really enjoyable reading such as Amity's first visit to a modern town and library, her first experience of television and the development of her relationship with the old man upstairs. Amaranth’s character also showed more depth and towards the end I started feeling a connection with her.

Sorrow, on the other hand never emerges from being a one-dimensional religious fanatic and I found her highly unlikable. I understand that her upbringing and belief that she is the Oracle contributed to this delusional state but based on what was revealed about her father later on, clearly the mental instability was inherited.

So would I recommend this? I just dont know, I never felt invested enough in the story except for the last 40 or so pages.
Profile Image for Terra.
Author 8 books274 followers
July 5, 2013
I had no idea what to expect with AMITY AND SORROW, but I'm so glad I picked it up. Sure, the plot is compelling (who wouldn't want to read about a mother and her two daughters escaped from a crazy religious cult?), but there's so much more to this book. The writing is excellent, the sister dynamics are superb, and the ending will haunt you for days. This is much more than sensationalism.
Profile Image for Diana.
72 reviews1 follower
April 20, 2013
For as long as I can remember, I have always been fascinated by cults. Any kind of cult. Being a born and raised Texan, I think my fascination was fostered by the idea that there were so many different cults popping up in my backyard: Yearning for Zion, Branch Davidians, and Heaven’s Gate (ok, so Heaven’s Gate wasn’t located in Texas, but Marshall Applewhite was the chair of the music department where I went to college and was a Texan). I remember reading and watching programs about the Children of God and Charles Manson, much to my mother’s chagrin. Which makes me wonder why it is that I haven’t read very much cult-related fiction. I was very pleasantly surprised when I received an advance copy of Peggy Riley’s debut, Amity & Sorrow.

Amity & Sorrow is the story of a mother, Amaranth, and her two daughters, the eponymous characters. The story starts off intensely, with the three of them on the run from the compound of the fundamentalist cult that they were a part of. A mysterious fire had been set, and Amaranth takes the opportunity to flee with her girls. Amaranth crashes the car in Oklahoma, having been driving for four days without sleep. They are rescued by a local farmer named Bradley, who begrudgingly offers the sanctuary that they need. Amity and Sorrow have been sheltered within the cult and learn about life outside of it. While Amity blooms under the new influence, Sorrow wants nothing but to return to the life she has known. Amaranth does a little learning about herself and the life that she has left behind, but the resolution of what has happened to her recent past life calls her like a siren song.

This story is simply written, with little description or embellishment. I’ve never been a big fan of overly flowery writing. You never really have a concrete idea about how old the girls are, or what people look like. At first, not knowing really irritated me. However, with further reading, I came to the conclusion that it makes sense, as the cult the women belonged to discouraged vanity. Vivid descriptions of people and visual judgemnts had no place in these people’s minds. Ms Riley does touch upon how they are dressed and how people perceive them, but you get few distinguishing descriptions of the characters.

This book is crazy, disturbing, and engrossing. There are two stories that unfold: Amaranth’s life within the cult, and the development of the three women outside of the cult’s influence. What I think is interesting about this story is that while it does focus on life within a fundamentalist cult, it also touches on the impact and repercussions of life after. It was written in such a credible way that sometimes it made me wonder if the author had at some point in her life been involved in a cult. Simple things as plugging in a television (let alone knowing what a tv is) or checking out a book at the library are foreign ideas to the girls. I would never have considered these things.

I found Amaranth to be an extremely fascinating character. Throughout the entire book, you get her life story in a series of flashbacks. You read about her birth, her role as the first wife of Zachariah, her relationships with the other wives, amongst other things. She’s one of the most interesting and complex characters I have read in a long time. I love the relationship that she develops with Bradley. He’s not a romaticized hero, which I really liked. He lives simply and like a slob, chain smokes, drinks, but he’s a good ol’ boy at heart.

The differences in Amity and Sorrow are amazing. You have two girls at opposite ends of the spectrum. Amity is the younger, and she is often overlooked. She is in the shadow of Sorrow, the first born of the new generation of followers, and the “Oracle”. While Amity thrives in this new way of life, looking at everything in curiosity and with a thirst for knowledge, Sorrow clings to the old way of life. Because she was the Oracle, she was greatly revered for her role and spoiled, and longs to go home. Having these complete opposites within the story, you get a pretty good scope of the recovery process.

There was one quote that struck me more than any other in the story: “Her Barbies had no wedding gowns —- not a one of the eight Barbies who lived with the single Ken in their plastic house, on their cardboard beds, in sin.” This was Amaranth reflecting on her wedding day to Zachariah. Holy crap. Does that not bring it close to home? Uhhhhh…..

I thought that the book had a great flow, and I didn’t feel for one minute that it was too slow. If there was a problem with slowness, it was all me. I just couldn’t read fast enough when it came down to it. Amity and Sorrow really made me think, and I’m pretty certain that I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. I found it to be an ultimately satisfying read. I would highly recommend it to anyone that has an interest in cults, but warning: it may exacerbate your interest to a higher and creepy degree (as I’m sure it has done for me). I will definitely be keeping an eye out for Ms Riley’s future works.
Profile Image for Cassie Gutman.
635 reviews126 followers
September 20, 2018
I was particularly drawn to this one by the descriptive copy—anyone who's followed me for a while knows I'm fascinated by cults and the idea of "utopia" and what leads people to choose this life.

As much as I wanted to love this (and I didn't hate it), it overall just fell a bit flat. It was fine, nothing was wrong, and it was a decent read, but I felt as though we jumped between Amaranth (the mother) and Amity and Sorrow too much, and I never understood how each woman/girl felt about the things that had happened to them. Instead, it was driven by events rather than characters, and even the events were a bit underdeveloped.

An okay read, but I would probably steer readers to books like The Book of Essie instead.
Profile Image for Joyce.
1,118 reviews6 followers
June 18, 2022
This was one of the strangest books I've read in a long time. It tells the story of a woman and her 2 daughters who have been involved in some kind of religious cult that practices polygamy. At the beginning of the story, Amaranth has fled from her prophet husband forcing her 2 daughters to come with her. Amity, the younger one, has come willingly but the older one, Sorrow, has been forced to come with her mother tying them together with a wrist strap. Amaranth wrecks the car somewhere in the panhandle of Oklahoma and they seek shelter at a pretty-much abandoned gas station.

Bradley, the man who runs the gas station, is also a farmer and lives in a nearby rundown house along with the young man, Dust, who is his hired hand. The book starts out in May of an unknown year when Amaranth ends up at Bradley's place with Amity and Sorrow and ends in September of that year when Amaranth drives back to her former home where she had fled from from months earlier. Over the course of that time, the author reveals beliefs and practices of the religious cult and how they have affected Amaranth, Sorrow and Amity. Amaranth is slowly willing to put aside beliefs such as it is wrong for her to enter anyone's home, speak to any other man, and that her life of being the first of 50 wives to her husband was God-ordained. Amity who is approx. 12 years old is caught between the beliefs and practices she has grown up with and the temptations of this new world she has entered. Sorrow remains totally caught up in the beliefs and practices she has known all her life and is determined to return to her father and that life.

The characters of Bradley and Dust are poorly developed and barely seem real. I did not like the writing style which seemed very sketchy and disjointed.

There are several references to the religious cult in Waco, TX and also a reference to a Mormon cult in Colorado City, Arizona but it felt like the author had just chosen details from those 2 cults to create a story but then made up another cult altogether. Although I thought the writing style was poor, the story definitely held my interest because I kept wondering what was going to happen to these 3 people and especially to Sorrow who obviously seemed to have lost touch with reality. It definitely showed the dark side to how such cults can affect people. I initially thought this book was going to focus on polygamy in a similar fashion to some other books I have read. However, that was not the primary focus of the book at all.
Profile Image for Amy Ingalls.
1,020 reviews14 followers
December 5, 2021
This is not an easy book. The writing style is unique--more prose than straight narrative, full of figurative language yet sparse in the actual telling of details. I loved it, although I can see how people were frustrated by the lack of details that she gave the reader. This book is also not easy because of its content-- incest, rape, religious extremism. These are not easy topics. The story of Amaranth, Amity, and Sorrow is heartbreaking.

The Q & A in the back, along with the information about cults, was interesting. Don't skip that part if your copy has it.
Profile Image for Ali.
1,242 reviews333 followers
April 20, 2013
I was very lucky to come across a paperback proof of Amity and Sorrow just a week or so after it had been published. I had already seen a great review of it elsewhere and knew I wanted to read it.
It starts with a car journey. A woman and her two not quite teenage daughters are in the car, they have been driving for four days. The mother Amaranth has taken her daughters to flee – running away from the only life they have ever known. That life was as part of a polygamous cult, Amaranth the first (and only legal) wife among fifty. Her husband, the father of her daughters Amity and Sorrow was the leader of the cult, the founder of their temple which just days earlier was engulfed in fire. Sorrow is the elder daughter, her place within the cult unique, she is an oracle, and her sister Amity has a gift for healing. These girls are ignorant of the modern world, never having seen TV or computers, they can’t read or write, their father and the life they have always lived has deliberately kept the world at bay. When Amaranth stops it is only because she has crashed the car, they are in Oklahoma – surrounded by dusty rain starved fields.
“Four days and the seasons have changed around them, the dirty ends of snow from home melting and running to make rivers, mountains flattening to make plain land then fields. Four days Amity had been tied to her sister, to keep her from running, until the car hit a tree and spun over a stump and Amity took the strap off and Sorrow flew out of the car and ran.
The sky is spinning orange when the man comes out from his fields. Dirt rides in on his overalls, spills down from his turned-up hems. His every step scatters it like seeds. “Hey” he calls to Amity and he raises his hand to wave. “
The man who comes out of the fields is Bradley – a struggling farmer with a small gas station. Having once been left by a wife – he has no interest in Amaranth and her story, though not really wanting to get involved he allows them to stay on his land. The three take up residence on his porch, Amaranth nervous of venturing into the house. Living with Bradley is Dust, a young Mexican boy who Bradley cares for as if he were his own son, while upstairs is Bradley’s father whose bible is a first edition of The Grapes of Wrath.
"You ever heard of a Mr. John Steinbeck?" the devil says.
"No, sir."
"Dumb and ignorant to boot. This ain't no Bible. This here book is The Grapes of Wrath. You heard of that?"
"Not exactly."
"Either you has or you hasn't"
"God the Father says that anyone worshiping the beast will receive a mark on her forehead and drink the wine of God's wrath and that must be pressed from His grapes of wrath, sir."
"Well," says the devil. "Maybe you ain't entirely dumb. Just mostly. You all are dumb for God, ain't you?"
Amity nods. She supposes they must be. She could hardly hope to keep a thing like that from the devil."
Amity tentatively gets to know Dust and keeps Sorrow’s secrets. Sorrow is enraged at being taken from her home, badly damaged, her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic as she is determined to get back, whatever it takes. Amaranth plunders Bradley’s store of food and seed, making food to nourish her daughters and planting unknown seeds in the parched ground in hope.
Slowly Bradley and Amaranth find a new level, and over the course of the novel, the story of how Amaranth came to marry the man she shared with the wives who followed her, and how and why she came to flee is revealed.
The story is often a dark disturbing one as the truths are revealed. This is a story of fundamentalism, faith and redemption. Peggy Riley’s writing suits this enormously memorable story perfectly, a pared down and quirky style matching the strange other worldliness of the sisters with their caps, long dresses and clogs. Most of the story is seen through the eyes of young Amity – who has only known the life her mother has taken her away from, yet she is ready to experience the new world she finds herself in, unlike her sister. However Amity has a fierce and touching loyalty to her sister and is desperate to save her. I adored the character of Amity, her wonder at the TV and her search for “the house of The Grapes of Wrath” (the Library) I found hugely poignant, I also loved the character of Bradley’s father, who starts to teach Amity to read. There are themes in this novel which may not sit well with everyone, but I found it an enthralling and unusual novel, well written and powerfully told with deceptive simplicity. Amity and Sorrow is a remarkable first novel, and I look forward to reading more by her.
Profile Image for Big Book Little Book.
332 reviews123 followers
April 10, 2013
Caroline for www.bigbooklittlebook.com
Copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review

This has been one of the hardest reviews to write. I’ve started, deleted and started again. I ignored, re-scheduled and stared at a blank computer screen but enough is enough. I will attempt to express the complicated feeling I have for Amity and Sorrow.

I have to confess that had I not been offered this book to review, If I had simply seen Amity and Sorrow in a book shop, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up.

For me reading is escapism, an indulgence and a pleasure. I am all about the “Happily Ever After”. I admit that I avoid books that are likely to be too heavy, books that depict abuse, or books that are likely to make me feel too uncomfortable. God, Sex and Farming... To say that I was reading outside of my comfort zone would be an understatement!

Although I found the subject matter explored within Amity and Sorrow uncomfortable and harrowing, this book was so much more. I never felt as though Riley sensationalized her subject matter, three women escaping from a polygamist religious cult, to make a quick buck. But, much like the characters it introduces, this is a modest book, understated but no less heart wrenching.

Amity and Sorrow is told from the women’s 3rd person perspective as they find themselves attempting to acclimatize to their new, alien like, surroundings and make sense of their place within the world without the strict rules of their home or the guidance of their “Father God”. The present day narrative is seamlessly interspersed with flashbacks which take us in a reverse chronological journey, through the events that led to the decision to escape and beyond to the circumstances in which Amaranth first became involved with her husband and cult leader. Each flashback adds another layer to the quiet horror of the women’s story.

I found the ending distressing and unsettling, nevertheless it was completely right for the story. Riley has too much respect for her characters and their journey to belittle their traumas and their achievements or to tie up the book with a pretty bow, and a fantasy happy ever after. Instead she offers the reader a glimmer of hope and new beginnings, but ultimately leaves the reader with more questions than answers.

I read the book with a love-hate attitude towards most of the characters. Like family, no matter how much you fight or how much they frustrate you there are underlying threads of love and affection, which keep you rooting for them and in this case kept me turning the page.

While I applaud Amaranth for her strength of character for removing her daughters from a harmful situation, and I could even begin understand how she got herself entangled within the polygamous cult, I had the most issues with her decisions made following their escape. At times I felt like reaching into the pages of the book and shaking her, and saying ‘look at your daughters, see how they are still hurting, look at the dangers that surround them still.’ In retrospect I can see that she was in survival mode, doing the best she could in a undoubtedly difficult situation, while still broken and healing herself.

But then I guess that that is the difference between a good book and a great one. That very fact that over a month after finishing, I am remembering, and analyzing, and questioning and still wishing for that happily ever after.

Verdict: There is no doubt that Amity and Sorrow is beautifully and sensitively written. The imagery memorable, easily transporting you into the dust and heat and hardship of rural Oklahoma, the pacing is perfect and the narrative borders are poetic. While it is unlikely that I will ever re read Amity and Sorrow I have no doubts that I will be buying Peggy Riley’s next novel.
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