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Stolen Innocence

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Stolen Innocence is the gripping New York Times bestselling memoir of Elissa Wall, the courageous former member of Utah’s infamous FLDS polygamist sect whose powerful courtroom testimony helped convict controversial sect leader Warren Jeffs in September 2007. At once shocking, heartbreaking, and inspiring, Wall’s story of subjugation and survival exposes the darkness at the root of this rebel offshoot of the Mormon faith.

438 pages, Hardcover

First published May 13, 2008

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About the author

Elissa Wall

4 books38 followers
Elissa Wall detailing her childhood in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) and subsequent later life outside of the church. It was first published by William Morrow and Company in 2008.

Wall was born into a polygamous family in Salt Lake City and grew up attending the FLDS-run Alta Academy. She describes her living situation as tense; familial relations were further complicated when her mother was reassigned to marry another man in Hildale, Utah.

FLDS leaders orchestrated a marriage between Wall, then 14, and her 19-year-old cousin, Allen Steed, an arrangement she claims to have vehemently opposed. During their four-year marriage, Steed allegedly abused her sexually and psychologically, and Wall eventually began an affair with Lamont Barlow, a 25-year-old former member of the FLDS. Barlow later persuaded her to leave the church and to press charges against Steed and Warren Jeffs, the FLDS "prophet" who performed the wedding ceremony.

Stolen Innocence sold well, reaching number six on the New York Times bestseller list.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,251 reviews
Profile Image for Petra X has her eye on the prize.
2,384 reviews33.9k followers
May 6, 2015
I read this to gain balance after reading Caroline Jessop's Escape. I found this book too full of self-pity and self-glory but with a paucity of background information on the FLDS. That isn't to say it isn't a good book - it is a chilling story well told and the book presents a much more rounded picture of life with its happy times as well as sad than Escape did.

Stolen Innocence reads quite strangely, but you can't put your finger on what is strange and why it is until you reach the last few chapters which are about Warren Jeffs trial as late as February 2008 (I am writing this June 2008) when you realise that the co-writer, Lisa Pulitzer, has used all the trial material for the book.

The central mystery of why the women stay when they are treated like property (and told so) is that from birth they are told that the wicked will be destroyed soon i.e. in the next few years and that only those who are observant members of the FLDS will be saved. Further, should they die before this final apocalypse, then they can only get into heaven and eternal life at the invitation of their husband who must have at least three wives. Now this may sound ridiculous to you and me, but if you think of your own beliefs of whatever religion you are or were brought up, they probably sound equally ridiculous to a non-adherent.

This brainwashing and control by fear is exploited by one further factor, that the FLDS has a prophet with a direct line to heaven, much as the Catholics have a Pope who is equally infallible. It is the prophet who controls where someone will life, who and when they will marry, and has the power to confiscate property, remove spouses and children and have the person literally, physically thrown out of religion and the place they live in.

Hard to stand up against all that? Elissa's brothers merely questioned it and were thrown out. She was strong and won through, gaining a conviction of accessory to rape against Jeffs, but her mother - her mother with all her love let her children be used because her faith said it was the right thing.

Through reading these two books, I have come to understand that it was a good thing to remove the children from the FLDS compound in Texas. Its a shame that the centre couldn't hold - a generation raised without brainwashing, without hating people of a different colour and fearing the evilness of us, the people of the world, would have had a chance of self-determination and freedom. But maybe the prophet that has taken over from Jeffs will be a benevolent one. I hope so.

All in all a story like a fantasy, an alternative world, but chillingly true and a good read.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,618 reviews12.8k followers
March 29, 2017
Biographies that detail the lives of those who have been involved in religious organisations can be particularly difficult to present, though my literary journey has brought me three in a row. While the thoughts of this review are my own, I realise that religion and politics are so deeply seeded in the psyche of us all that we can take opinions that differ from our own to heart. I fall victim to personal sentiments at times and am using this book as a foundation to discuss fundamentalism within the Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). My long and convoluted biography journey brought me to this piece by Elissa Wall, whose entire childhood was shaped by the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Born into the Church, Wall grew up with the rigid beliefs of the FLDS, many of which are peppered throughout the narrative. Wall offers the reader a backstory of both the Church and how it broke from the modernising ways of Mormons in the late 19th century. The schism went through a few permutations, finally becoming a strong and compact community, primarily focussed in Utah and on the border with Arizona, though also closely affiliated with a community in rural British Columbia. Wall also crafts her own familial story to allow the reader to see a personalised cog in the wheel that is the FLDS. Throughout the narrative, Wall returns to discussions of The Prophet, a man drawn from the Church Elders who is seen to have a direct connection with God and whose will is not to be challenged. This is how the reader learns of Warren Jeffs, who would play a key role throughout Wall's story. She explores the hold the FLDS has over its members, particularly the children in their scholastic endeavours, with this trust and complete subjugation continuing into adulthood. Wall offers countless examples of strict adherence to a set of beliefs, due both to tradition and the decisions of the Prophet. To question these pose the possibility to banishment, which comes with complete isolation from one's family. Apostates are vilified by FLDS members and it is encouraged that a complete mental and emotional scourge occur to retain purity. Leaving to practice even with the mainstream Mormon Church is seen as complete apostasy and Wall shows how the community pressured her own family to banish her after she challenged a number of the preconceived notions the Church laid out for her and the feelings of abuse that she was not able to vocalise. This treatment that Wall faced at the hands of the FLDS is almost beyond comprehension, detailed throughout the narrative and then further challenged when Wall was used as a victim to bring Warren Jeffs to trial. It is at this point that the biography takes on its most interesting aspect, as lawyers seek to parse through insinuation and actual messaging by Jeffs, going so far as to turn the entire subservient nature of members on its head. Wall has a powerful story to share and she does so well. Readers who have the stomach for some of the most heart-wrenching tales of abuse and subservient behaviour in the name of God may find this glimpse into the FLDS fascinating, as well as the legal battle that opened it up to the jury of public opinion.

I found myself drawn to this piece more than simply because it was a recommended buddy read. I am always drawn to churches and religious sects that fail outside the norm, especially those who are vilified in mainstream media. Trying not to paint the mainstream Church with the same brush as the FLDS can require mental acuity, though I admit I know there IS a difference and that not all are drinking from the Kool-Aid of the teachings Warren Jeffs professed in this book. Wall offers a wonderful insight into growing up inside the FLDS and how she pushed boundaries on a regular basis. Her narrative does pose a number of legal and sociological questions that remain with me even afterwards. 'Can a woman be raped by her husband?', 'How can the State of Utah be so clear that sex with a 13 year-old is rape, but one with a fourteen year-old has a slew of caveats?', 'Is religious teaching a defence against some of the criminal charges brought up in this book?', and even 'Does society have the right to "help" those who are living blindly under these strict rules to be "free"?' I will not respond to these now, but have a number of opinions after completing this book. My academic side must also rear its head, leaving me to wonder at times if Wall remembers things as clearly as they happened or if she sought to spin a youth that would fit all the checkboxes in order to highlight the evils that lurked in every corner of the FLDS. I was left to query how much was fact and where the fanciful storytelling might have gone, not because this is not a life that one woman could live, but that it was so all-encompassing. One might turn to the co- (ghost?) author, Lisa Pulitzer, to wonder if they tried to cram everything into one biography. This is my second book where Pulitzer has helped a child within a religious sect tell their story, both of which use a strong format of vilification and the struggle to leave the fray. That should not detract from the fact that the book was well-paced and clearly sought to exemplify much to the reader. The true message of any higher power is rife with interpretation, as can be any book one reads. That is why the world created Goodreads, for readers to offer insight and present their passionate opinions, right?!

Kudos, Madam Wall for your succinct look into a life riddled with hurdles and struggle. Thankfully, you have made it out and I can only hope, looking forward, you have a healthy future as you surround yourself with those who love you.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,850 reviews34.9k followers
March 14, 2016
I've read other books on polygamy, seen movies, and had a friend who grew up in a polygamous family in Utah. Many of the stories in this memoir are similar to others I've read:
...religious cult community...1 husband with many wives and children.
...The prophet determines when a marriage is to take place. Husband is encouraged to rape his wife.
...Sex is never talked about with girls until her wedding night- and then she is suppose to submit to her husband.
...clothing covers the body -is very conservative
....taught specific beliefs about the path to eternal salvation, ( brainwashing)
....child molestation - rape- emotional & physical abuse. etc.

In "Stolen Innocence", (I listened to the audiobook), we get a more in depth
comprehensive understanding of how the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (FLDS Church), is different from the LDS church,
(Later-day-Saints).
Both church affiliations believe in the Big Book of Mormon...
But the FLDS families live in privacy and are not allowed to have contact with family members who have left the church.
LDS families believe all Mormons are bound together by the common belief in Jesus Christ...but favor family-and outside community.

What's different about this story - is that a 19 year old female..Elissa Wall,
directly was pivotal in bringing justice to the cult leader, Warren Jeffs.
From the start of her storytelling Elissa separates her feelings towards people she loves vs. the behaviors practiced within this type of family.
Geeee... we could feel how frightened she was on her wedding night at age 14. You wanted to take her in your arms - hug her- race her to your car - and keep driving away.
5 more year.... Elissa ( age 19)... can run away all she wants, ( she is free),
However, her own birth mother chose to stay living with the FLDS Church ... after the trials rather than support Elissa. It's pretty sad...and Elissa just keeps her chin high and loves her mother as she is....( but takes her own path- and got the law to see her side).

The weakness of the audio ...(the narration anyway), often felt somewhat flat - slow- and boring...
It got better towards the end...but I felt as if I knew most of this story before I started it. I wished for more magnetic narration.

Overall, this story is encouraging. A sweet-natured-brave girl...did what was right with dignity...
Elissa and many others are now free to love and live wherever they choose!

Amen!

3.7

Profile Image for Carmaletta Hilton.
166 reviews15 followers
February 7, 2009
I didn't care for this one nearly as much as those by Carolyn Jessop and Flora Mae Jessop. When I first started this book, I had high expectations. Learning that Elissa's father was not born and raised in the FLDS was intriguing and drew me in. How do two intelligent people (Mr. Wall and his first wife) find themselves conned by this cult of fundamentalism? I would have preferred to hear his story, if anyone could ever get him or his wife, Audrey, to talk. After all he'd been through, why didn't he leave?

Unfortunately, the story I was given was a lot less interesting, and by the end, I was forcing myself to finish the book. The hardest part was reminding myself that she was a child at the time, and that at heart, despite her relationship with Lamont and her children, Elissa Wall is still a child who does not take responsibility for her actions.

Now, I fully admit that everything that happened to her was wrong. There is no question of that, and I am very glad that a jury found Warren Jeffs guilty. I wish the community itself had been deemed just as guilty, but how can one convict an entire community? Everyone there knew that it was wrong, including members of Elissa's family, but no one did anything. They were many against one man, and while I understand that they were brainwashed, there were many who even Elissa admits knew that this was wrong. Hardly any of them, however, are condemned by her.

I didn't like the way that she kept saying how she had "tried" with Allen in her marriage. Perhaps as a child she thought she was trying, but now, as an adult, she should be able to admit that she didn't try. It was wrong and dirty, and so no, she did not make an attempt to make that horrible marriage work. I would respect her more, now, if she'd just said, "Look, I hated it, and I didn't try." Because let's face it, never being home is not trying. I also dislike the way she kept saying how she didn't want to abandon her mom and her sisters, how they "needed" her and she couldn't just leave them. I didn't see very many instances where she talked about doing that much for them, other than giving them money every now and again. Mostly, they were just there for her to use when she didn't want to be home with Allen. And, in the end, she didn't even "leave" the FLDS. She just kept becoming more and more "rebellious" until they finally just kicked her out.

I am not condemning any of Elissa Wall's actions during these years in the FLDS and in this arranged marriage. I just don't agree with the way she talks about them now, years later, as an adult. I expected a lot more than a child's repetitive story peppered with words that she would have never known. The co-author on this did not do a very good job at making me care about Elissa Wall's story. Perhaps if I heard this directly from Elissa, I would feel differently. With the telling of it in this book, however, I just didn't care. This was nowhere near as engaging at the other polygamy books that I had read, and as I said in the beginning of this, I would have preferred to hear the story of her father and his first wife.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for ♥Milica♥.
750 reviews225 followers
March 26, 2022
With every FLDS book I read, the more I hate Warren Jeffs. May he rot in hell for all he has done.

Now, the book. It's long, but at no point did it feel too long or boring to me. I also liked the writing style which was not only easy to understand/follow (despite the subject matter), but kept me engaged throughout.

Elissa's story is heartbreaking as you'd imagine, but she highlights the good moments too, and I'm glad that she never lost her faith in God (like in the questioning period, she knew that God was real and just, and that whatever God Warren Jeffs was supposedly speaking for, wasn't the God she believed in).

I wish Elissa a very happy life, and I feel almost obliged to thank her for sharing her story with the world, not just in court, but also in this book.
Profile Image for CJ.
421 reviews
June 5, 2008
I've read everything I could get my hands on about the FLDS in the last couple of years. This is another book about a woman who left the religion after years of abuse - she was married at 14 to her first cousin. This cousin then spent years mentally and physically abusing her before she broke away.

Great insight into the FLDS group and why it's so hard for women to leave it.
Profile Image for HeavyReader.
2,247 reviews14 followers
January 2, 2009
I am easily obsessed with these stories of women oppressed by and then escaping from the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of the Mormon Church).

This is heavy shit!

The author was forced to get married to her first cousin when she was 14. (I think the husband was 19.) She was then forced to "perform her wifely" duty with him. Yikes! Bad news. Bad, bad news. The happy news it that she finally found true love and escaped from the oppressive religion.

I am for religious freedom (if folks are into that kind of thing), but I don't think people should force their religious freedom on other people. From what this author writes about her life, that is what's happening in this sect. In fact, folks in this religion were taught that women and children are the property of men. (Things may have changed since Warren Jeffs is no longer running the show.)

Disturbing, which made it difficult to read (minefield of possible triggers here!), but the writing itself is easy to breeze through.
Profile Image for Eva-Marie.
1,672 reviews127 followers
December 30, 2008
Astonishing. I think, for me, this was even more astonishing than Carolyn Jessups book Escape which was my entrance into the polygamy. I knew only the definition of the word before reading Escape and have since been gathering almost everything I can find on the subject.
This was a real quick book- mainly because you really can't put it down. The emotion is so raw it's scary. I found myself feeling so many different things at so many different points in her life story. One thing I liked a lot is that the reader gets two points of view from Mrs. Wall, one from her childhood and one from her "adult" life. I use that term sparingly since she was technically a grown-up in the FLDS at age 14. She didn't leave the group until years later so we do see a much desired difference in her ways. Adding what happened with the court case, as of the time of writing was nice also for anyone who didn't follow the court proceedings like myself.
This is definitely in the top five books I've read this year- I was engaged the whole time and didn't find one page that I wasn't thinking, thinking, thinking.
It scares me to no end to think this is still happening and that there are still women and young children trapped in this type of situation.
Eliss Wall did an excellent job of sharing with her readers why us "normal" people have such a hard time understanding FLDS people. Before reading this and Escape I probably would have been one of the ones saying, "Just walk away. Leave. Get out." Now I realize it's not that easy. These people are taught that "normal" people are evil and will go to hell. They're taught that we will hurt them and take away from them when nothing is further than the truth.
I truly hope the rest of Mrs. Walls life is exactly the opposite of the beginning of her life in terms of pain and happiness. I also hope she can continue to help the young girls and women who are still stuck in the mentality that Warren Jeffs continued long after Joseph Smith and his father, Rulon Jeffs died.





Profile Image for Cam.
267 reviews
Read
September 2, 2008
I wanted to read this book after reading Carolyn Jessop's book on the same topic- living in polygamy. I think this adds more credit to Carolyn's account. I was wrapped up in this story and found myself crying when the verdict was read against Warren Jeffs. This girl has overcome a lot of challenges, and once again I've realized how blessed I am to enjoy so many freedoms.
913 reviews384 followers
June 7, 2010
As a religious person, I tend to approach the whole how-I-broke-out-of-my-crazy-abusive-religion memoir genre with some caution. I've read some pretty off-the-wall descriptions (mostly in fiction, though occasionally in books purporting to be non-fictional memoirs) of abuse and suffering perpetuated by people claiming to practice my religion. Generally, even when the experiences being described ring true, I think a critical reader can see that the psychological dysfunction is what's causing the bizarre religiosity rather than the other way around. It's harder to make this distinction, though, if you're not familiar with the religion being described or the people practicing it.

Not being too familiar with the FLDS religion and community, I wondered whether typical polygamous families and arranged marriages in that context resemble Elissa's experiences in "Stolen Innocence." I remember being fascinated by the descriptions of FLDS life in Under the Banner of Heaven while I read it and then wondering afterward whether the book was sensationalized. Somehow Elissa Wall's experiences rang truer to me, though -- maybe because her descriptions, for all the horror involved, were three-dimensional and included acknowledgment of happier times and close relationships.

Elissa Wall was one of fourteen children born to her father's second wife (he had three). As she described her earlier childhood, I was fascinated by the dynamics of polgamy. Geez! Division of labor can be difficult enough to negotiate with two spouses and four kids -- it never occurred to me to consider what it might be like with several other wives to argue with about who's doing the dishes (or whose kids will).

But that's small potatoes compared to the events that started to unfold as Elissa grew older. The incredible amount of control held by the former prophet, Warren Jeffs, who broke up Elissa's family when the fighting among the three wives grew too intense to handle -- Elissa, her mother, and some of her siblings were sent to live in a new city with a new man who would now be Elissa's mother's husband. The living conditions were difficult, and the children's father was suddenly out of the picture. Is it any wonder that several of Elissa's older siblings left the FLDS fold? And when they did, Warren Jeffs orchestrated their mother's literal abandonment of them at the side of the road followed by a complete cut-off from the family and community.

But it gets worse -- Elissa was married off at fourteen to a nineteen-year-old first cousin whom she'd always despised. Begging her mother, her stepfather, and even Warren Jeffs himself to release her or at least postpone the marriage was to no avail. Elissa went on to suffer multiple rapes by her husband followed by miscarriages before she found the strength to leave the marriage and the FLDS community. Eventually, she served as the star witness when the state prosecuted and ultimately convicted Warren Jeffs.

Well, what this story lacked in literary quality it certainly made up for in drama. Although the book was long and occasionally slow, I found myself quickly turning its pages, eager to see what would happen next.

I also appreciated much of what Elissa went through as someone who is religious. Thankfully, I have not suffered abusive experiences and feel no desire to leave my religion or community; Elissa's description of the agony involved in this process, though, rang true to me. I felt that she did a good job of showing the reader that you cannot simply pick up and leave. Although the external pressures on Elissa to stay in her community were more extreme, I think, than they would be in my community, the internal pressures are similar.

Elissa's story also made me think about the dangerous power sometimes invested in religious figures. Scary to think that a self-proclaimed prophet (who later revoked his prophet status) can force a mother to abandon her children, leave her husband for another man whom she doesn't love, or allow her fourteen-year-old daughter to be forcibly married off. This level of blind faith, especially in a human being, was pretty foreign to me despite my own religious outlook. On the other hand, some of the sacrifices I make for my religious beliefs can be pretty difficult to explain too. While I wouldn't put them in the same category as the actions described in Elissa's book, maybe someone else would, or perhaps more accurately, would see them as existing on the same continuum if less extreme.

All things considered, this seemed to me to be a pretty balanced portrayal. I wonder whether someone more familiar with the FLDS lifestyle would agree.
Profile Image for Kathryn in FL.
716 reviews
February 27, 2020
This story was published shortly after Caroline Jessop's escape from Warren Jeffs cult was world news. I followed the "trail" of hurt this horrible cult had perpetrated on members and this was one of the books I devoured. At this point, I have a poor recollection due to the traumatic brain injury that followed two years after publication. I do remember the impact it had on me. As a cult survivor myself, I related to so many emotions and the utter fear that permeates the entire life of those bearing witness to the poisonous leadership and its whims and schizophrenic behaviors.

This was a compelling read and if you learn nothing else, realize that there are other "realities" unlike yours. It can make you a little more compassionate and perhaps even wanting to reach out to make a difference.
Profile Image for Alissa Patrick.
416 reviews183 followers
February 6, 2017
2.5 Stars

Eh. It was okay. I probably would have liked it more if it was shorter. This memoir did not have to be so long. The bare bones of the story was solid- a girl forced to marry at age 14 to her first cousin and the ensuing rape and abuse by her husband and her need to escape was just awful. My heart went out to her, but at times the book just dragged and was long-winded
Profile Image for Lara.
418 reviews93 followers
June 17, 2008
I was predisposed to enjoy the book, considering that I’m pretty fascinated by fundamentalist Mormons. I can’t remember if this fascination started with Big Love or if it started with Under the Banner of Heaven. In fact, it might be more appropriate to say I’m pretty fascinated with extremists of any kind, really. (Which brings me to a tangent: did y’all ever see that BBC show where the host basically visited extremists and tried to understand why they believed the things that they believed? He somehow managed to be both respectful and hilarious when doing so. It is driving me crazy that I can’t remember the name of it. Please help.)

But I digress.

Stolen Innocenceis the courageous story of a young girl who questions a religion which teaches that you will go to hell if you question it; who protests her forced marriage when doing so was considered questioning the religion (and therefore you should go to hell); who escapes the FLDS when it meant losing ties with most of her family, becoming someone that most people she loved and grew up with disdained, and having to forge a life in a world that really was foreign to her; and then who fights back against those very people who once tried to control her life and manipulate her emotions. I can’t imagine how scary - on a multitude of levels - it must have been for Ms. Walls to break away, to change her thinking, and to continue to work towards assisting other girls and women like herself, and I admire her immensely for it.

I keep reading and re-reading this little bit of a review and wondering how I could possibly do the book justice without sounding too gushy and repetitive, and I think in this case I’m going to take a “simplicity is key” approach and leave it as it is.
Profile Image for Linds.
931 reviews27 followers
August 4, 2022
Well, if you ever want learn how to twist people's religious beliefs into holding ultimate power over them Warren Jeffs is your kind of guy.

This book is unbelievably depressing. Only knowing that it turns all right in the end is what got me through this book.

I've read a few books about the women in Iran and how their lives were restricted. I think the FLDS Morman church has nothing on them. It's almost the opposite, in Iran the law is against you. In the FLDS, the law is for you but has the ability to strip you of your family, children, husband, banish you with no way to support yourself, and "send you to hell" if you don't stay in line.

I had grown up with Mormons in Arizona, but had no exposure to FLDS except HBO's Big Love. This story is so sad because it is true. Still, I love how a teenage girl whose family, life, safety, and happiness were unimportant brought down a sociopathic abusive cult leader. Justice is rarely found outside of books.

Elissa was forcibly married to her cousin at age 14. She was taken away from her father at an early age, her older brothers were run off, some sisters ran away, and others marrried off to men in their eighties. When she finally left the FlDS she had the courage and thanks to her testimony Warren Jeffs is now behind bars.

The prose itself? Not so good. But the story it tells is incredible.
Profile Image for Ingrid Lola.
145 reviews
January 3, 2009
I greatly admire and respect Elissa Wall, but not her book... obviously written with the help of an amateur journalist. Yes, the story SEEMED interesting enough for me to pay $25, but wasn't worth it in the least. I guess it could be a good beach read... but check it out of the library, or at least wait for the paperback. This book is no work of art, and certainly wasn't life changing. The writing was laugh out loud terrible. I guess I have to give it to Elissa, though--she certainly had a tough life. But, don't buy the book. You're much better off with "Under the Banner of Heaven".
Profile Image for Beth Young.
13 reviews
July 7, 2008
I wanted to read this so I could find out for myself what the FLDS church believed. I thought that they would have some similar beliefs with the LDS church of which I belong. There are really none except that they belive in The Book of Mormon. But, their interpretation of The Book of Mormon is so different than that of the LDS religion. The biggest difference is that the LDS religion is very pro-family and we are to supposed to support and love our families through all trials that we go through. The FLDS families are told they can no longer have any contact with family members that have left the church.
Profile Image for Kavita.
752 reviews361 followers
May 7, 2017
Elissa Wall was a teenage bride in FLDS, and played a key role in the conviction of Warren Jeffs. She testified against him and this book is her story as she saw it. It was slightly interesting because even though I have read a number of polygamy memoirs, it is not often that a woman gets to take a hand in the actual conviction of their ex-prophet.

The author left a lot of things unexplained. For example, she would stay out of her home and spend nights in her truck in the middle of the desert all alone, and apparently no one questioned it or dragged her home. I am very surprised why she was allowed to get away with this while all other women have specifically stated in their memoirs that they had to take permission before to leave home for anything. Was this because her husband was too young? Too scared to confront her? His family was on her side for a change? No information!

At the same time, the author also psycho-analyses some characters to death, especially her mother. It is understandable that she would not want to actually analyse her mother's key role in her own abuse, but consistently claiming that her mother loved her but was brainwashed does not condone her mother of neglecting the welfare of her own children. When she gets down to analysing why it is fine that her mother allowed all the abuse, it seemed completely irrelevant. I also could not help having a slight sympathy with her husband. Yes, he did rape her but he knew no different. He was pretty much ordered to do so. He would have been thrown out of the sect if he could not control his wife. If we excuse her mother on the same grounds, we should do the same to Allan as well, who served a sentence for rape. But her mother got scott-free and no prison for child neglect and child abuse for her! Her father too comes into the same category, which is more emphasised for me because he was not from an FLDS sect originally. He just converted, probably to have all the power and women, and realised it's not as awesome as he thought it would be. In short, he was a douchebag who hit his children and abandoned them because some other men told him to do so. Seriously, how is this excusable?

Elissa Wall is not the only person to condemn Warren Jeffs as evil. But he never was the exclusive evil person in the FLDS. The entire system is evil and all these people are just a product of their circumstances. This is not to say that Allan and Jeffs should not have been convicted, but I am always left dissatisfied by the fact that almost all these memoirs just end with "Hey, the man is convicted. Victory!" It's nothing of the sort. There are other men who are still abusing their wives and children because they are told it's the path to eternal salvation. The court case, which was described in extremely boring length in the book, had the people consistently claiming that 'this is not about religion'. But that's exactly what it is about. Either the FLDS should make changes and provisions for the safety of its members, especially the children, or there should be some serious questions raised on the existence of this system. 'It's not about religion' is a cop out and extremely disrespectful to these victims, even if they don't actually realise it. I am sick of that line in any context. Warren Jeffs is not the problem, he never was. He might have made things tougher for the men, but for the women and children, the hardships were always there because the system demands it.

All the above is not to say that this memoir is not worth reading. I have just expressed some details in the review about the issues that the author failed to address in the book.
Profile Image for N.
783 reviews196 followers
April 27, 2010
This book made it onto my to-read list because I'm interested in the Fundamentalist LDS Church, but I didn't realize until I actually picked up a copy that it was being marketed as a misery memoir. I've read maybe two mis-mems previously, so I couldn't tell you if this is a "good" one. It's certainly a harrowing story (Elissa was forced into marriage at 14 to an older man that she hated), tied up with a shiny bow of justice in the end (Elissa brings charges against the FLDS's "prophet", who arranged her marriage and encouraged her husband to rape her).

Unfortunately, Stolen Innocence presents Elissa's story in a manner that makes it feel overlong and unengaging. The narrative is dense and repetitive, even rambling -- not an easy or interesting read. There are some insights given into the FLDS Church, but honestly, if that's what you're interested in, you'd be better off reading Jon Krakauer's journalistic work, Under the Banner of Heaven.

Elissa's story is clearly one worth telling, but unfortunately, a lack of dynamism in the writing meant that this book just felt dull.
Profile Image for Kelly H. (Maybedog).
2,306 reviews219 followers
May 12, 2009
I couldn't put this book down. Similar stories have been told before but this book is different from Escape by Carolyn Jessop in that Elissa was wed at 14 against her will and repeatedly raped as a child by her "husband" who was her first cousin. Although she continually tried to seek help, she was rebuffed at every turn. Then she had the strength at only 19 years old to begin to bring Warren Jeffs to justice. Although the writing was only fair, what I really appreciated about this book was that the author told her story with as much love and respect as she could. Unlike most memoirs of atrocities suffered in childhood, Elissa doesn't paint everyone from her childhood as evil and the modern life as good. She describes the goodness in each person as well as the faults (with the exception of Warren Jeffs who she understandably has little compassion for) and tries to be as honest as she can about her own struggles. She talks about being "mean" to the "husband" who was horribly abusing her, as if lashing back at an abuser is mean. She has nothing but love for her mother, the woman who failed to protect her, and is able to understand where everyone is coming from, even those who hurt her. She is kind and courageous and is a good example of how someone can condemn an act, fault behavior, disagree with beliefs but not hate the person. I am honored to read her story and find it wonderfully refreshing that she is not bitter and angry but hopeful and looking towards the future. I particularly appreciate how she didn't take the easy road and rail against polygamy and every belief the FLDS has but instead focused on how polygamy affected her family and what the truly criminal acts were: rape; child molestation; child rape; physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; and brainwashing. She could have spent a lot more time on the latter but she didn't. In fact, I felt she underplayed the actual abuse if anything and was overly aware of how bizarre her life sounds to those of us outside. I commend her for her bravery.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
4,984 reviews1,083 followers
March 27, 2018
Having spent much of childhood and all of adolescence in a community with a large fundamentalist protestant population, but having grown up without a religious education myself, I've long been fascinated by the phenomenon. Later in life I married into a family with a Mormon faction leading me to begin reading about that schismatic sect in its various varieties. This book is the third I've read about the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-day Saints, the first being 'Under the Banner of Heaven', the second, like this one, being the autobiography of an FLDS woman.

Life is not good for FLDS women, their church being radically patriarchal. Author Wall, with help from one Lisa Pulitzer, tells a tale of religious indoctrination, of families sundered by church authorities and of forced, incestuous marriage/sex as an early teen, ending it with an account of her escape and successful litigation against 'the prophet', one Warren Jeffs.

The book reads swiftly (indeed, I read most of it aloud with the owner of Chicago's Heirloom Books) and its author comes across as genuine. It suffers, however, from being unnecessarily wordy with far more self reference than necessary--as if it was mostly transcribed from tape with only what editing was absolutely necessary.
Profile Image for Cody.
91 reviews
November 8, 2008
At first I wasn't sure if I was going to enjoy this book. It is the story of a young girl growing up in the polygamous FLDS faith. Married at age 14 under duress she suffered much as a very young and naive bride. She eventually left the marriage and was instrumental in getting Warren Jeffs, the then prophet, sent to prison.

I have to admit that the more I read the more I enjoyed learning about her perspectives concerning the FLDS. I was appalled at the control that Warren Jeffs asserted over the FLDS. His misuse of power was rather alarming. Families were literally broken up and given to other men at his command. Elissa Wall tells her story and how she was able to finally break away from the religion that she had grown up in. Considering the fundamentalist swing of the FLDS and the control that was imposed on the women of this faith, it was not an easy task for her to leave.
Profile Image for Jeanne.
788 reviews4 followers
March 17, 2018
First and foremost, kudos to Elissa Wall for her courage to tell this most disturbing true story. This is a story about a woman who broke away from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) and testified against the "Prophet". I don't care who you are or what religion you practice, there is no way in HE** that it is right to marry off a 14-year-old girl to her first cousin. An interesting look into an entirely different lifestyle, that often made me angry listening, but I had to see it through to the end. 6 out of 10.
Profile Image for ReadAlongWithSue .
2,636 reviews170 followers
September 8, 2014
This book was given to me last week, I have been reading this in between another book I am currently reading.

I am not sure why I was drawn to it, but it was very enlightening. I didn't realize that the Mormons had a break away party of people who still insisted marring girls off at the age of 14! this girl had a terrible childhood, and an even worse marriage. I am glad she is settled now
Profile Image for jenna Hudrlik.
429 reviews40 followers
February 9, 2009
i don't really know what i thought of this book - i listened to the whole thing and i do know that the whininess of the narrators voice irritated me and i had to keep telling myself that it is a sad story but found that i kept wanting her to shut up and stop whining! i would have liked more background into the FLDS since I know nothing, I would have liked the author to show more spine - though she was in a way - since she left her marriage eventually, did things behind the groups back etc but then when she was writing the book she acted like she had no choices - even as she was writing about her choice to do these things. The writing was entirely too melodramatic - for example - "Sad thoughts permeated my mind and put me in a somber daze." ugh.
I also thought that since she said she was helpless and brainwashed for her to have realized that maybe her first husband was also brainwashed into thinking he was doing the things the way he was taught that they should be done - i may be making excuses for someone that shouldnt be allowed any, but if he was brought up the same way as she - i would think that he didnt know how to act either except by example and he too, was young. if all he is taught is to have power over his wife and that she should stay sweet and submit to him - he was only acting out the way he thought he was supposed to. she was, however, able to forgive her mother for the terrible fact that she did nothing to help her by using the excuse that she was too much into the church to know any better - double standard if you ask me.
so anyway - i still dont know what i think but i did read it and for the most part didnt hate it.
407 reviews9 followers
August 24, 2019
If you are reading this book chances are you already have a basic idea of what polygamy is so some of the story line will be expected or predictable. The thing that makes this story interesting is the personal details; her personal story.

As you read the story you might question why she didn't just leave. I thought back to my early childhood, to time before my first heartbreak, before my friend used me and lied to protect themselves, to a time when my parents where heros. That time when you believe in things simple because you are told to (Santa, Easter Bunny, and kisses heal owies) That is when the conditioning started for Elissa Wall. She didn't have any outside influence from TV, radio, or even neighborhood friends to show her things are differant and can be better. Her whole world is what her parents and the prophet told her.

This story is about Elissa's journey of self discovery and the events that lead to her escape from polygamy.
Profile Image for Ina.
347 reviews10 followers
May 3, 2019
Dit boek vertelt het verhaal van Elissa die behoort tot de Flds groep , een deel van de Mormonen gemeente. Ze wordt al op 14 jaar uitgehuwelijkt aan een 5 jaar oudere neef tegen haar wil. Hier vertelt ze in het eerste deel over haar jeugd voor haar huwelijk en in het 2 de deel na haar huwelijk. Ik had hier jaren geleden eens 2 leden van de Mormonen groep aan de deur en toen ik zei dat ik niet geïnteresseerd was kreeg ik als vraag ... komt het door slechte dingen dat je van ons gehoord hebt? Ik hoefde enkel ja te antwoorden en ze wisten al wat ik bedoelde en ze bleven aandringen dat dit nu niet meer het geval was. Ik denk zelfs dat ze hier aan de deur stonden nog voor dat Warren Jeffs veroordeeld was. Ik heb trouwens nooit geloofd dat die gemeenschap niet meer aan polygamie deden. Ik vond het van Elissa heel moedig haar verhaal te vertellen en ook 2 van haar zussen moedig om haar volledig te verdedigen in de rechtbank in de zaak tegen Warren Jeffs.
Profile Image for Jodi.
416 reviews2 followers
April 5, 2018
This book left me with a heavy sad feeling. Elyssa Wall’s story gives an incredible depiction of the FLDS life. It’s depressing to see how this radical break-off group of the mainstream LDS church I love, took plain and simple truths about salvation, and twisted them into a way to suppress women and hurt families. I’m so sickened by the accounts of abuse that happens to children in Warren Jeffs cult. The small sense of justice I felt as I read his sentencing in the book, was squashed when I did some research and learned that he is still ruling his people through fear while he is behind bars! The attorney general was not strict enough on him! His dictatorship reminds me of Hitler and the Taliban when they ruled in fear taking the people’s radios, and Televisions, making them listen only to recordings from their dictator, and secretly removing powerful, prominent members that would oppose the dictator. All this is going on right now in the FLDS, with Warren Jeffs, the self proclaimed prophet, telling them what they can eat, when they can have sex and even how to put their clothes on, all while holding a severe fear over them that if they don’t comply, they could lose the priesthood, risk banishment from their children and lose their eternal salvation. These people are so brainwashed into believing they must be silent and "keep sweet" when bad things like incest, molestation, and rape are happening!
Elyssa Wall’s brave decision to sue Warren Jeffs was the catalyst that got him arrested. I’m also pleased to see her life now as she uses her position and money to help other escapees.
I’m torn on my rating because I didn’t like how this book made me feel. I hate reading about abuse, and rape to women and children. I finally decided on 4 stars because of the courageous steps that Elyssa took. And the fact that she is still working to help others escape, cope and thrive outside the cult, and has become a spokesperson of hope for other victims.
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,880 followers
November 11, 2008
Elissa Wall is the brave and tormented young lady responsible for putting the evil Warren Jeffs behind bars.

At the age of fourteen, Elissa was forced by Jeffs to marry her first cousin, Allen Steed. In the FLDS cult, they have what is called "placement marriage." The "prophet" assigns you a marriage partner, supposedly revealed to him by god. Ms. Wall repeatedly begged "Uncle Warren" to let her have two more years to grow up before marrying, but he refused her requests. Jeffs was convicted of "accessory to rape" because he engineered and forced the underage marriage.

At the time she got married, Elissa did not even know sex existed. It was not discussed in the FLDS culture. After becoming impatient with her anxiety, her husband forced himself on her, and continued to do so for the next several years. By the time she was seventeen, she'd had three miscarriages and a stillbirth!

This book chronicles Wall's upbringing in the cult and shows the deterioration of the community after Warren Jeffs took control and became dictatorial.

3.5 stars or so. I couldn't quite give it 4 stars. She did get a good professional co-author. The organization and flow is good, but I think a lot could have been cut from the book.
Profile Image for Kimball.
1,169 reviews20 followers
July 13, 2021
3.5 stars. I chuckled at the part where the people from Crick were referred to as "Crickers" like Aunt Donna says.

Her mom said the husband is supposed to teach about having a baby.

I think that the reason God commanded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to stop practicing plural marriage wasn't because of the US laws and being "afraid" of them like many nay-sayers believe. It's because of the offshoot churches like the FLDS making an abomination and disgrace of it all.

I wonder how many girls felt like she did after getting married.

I don't know why she says she loves her mom so much. All that she wrote about her was negative and not loving.

I didn't know that Warren denied being the prophet and said he was deceived. Breaking Free: How I Escaped My Father-Warren Jeffs-Polygamy, and the FLDS Cult took place after and it said he had a strong hold on the church well after he was sent to prison. I'm glad this one has details of the legal stuff. Speaking of which, I hate the kinds of lawyers that defend obvious guilty people like Warren. They should share in some of the conviction and retribution.
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