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The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

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4.37  ·  Rating details ·  4,814 ratings  ·  999 reviews
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies explores the raw and tender places where black women and girls dare to follow their desires and pursue a momentary reprieve from being good. The nine stories in this collection feature four generations of characters grappling with who they want to be in the world, caught as they are between the church's double standards and their own needs ...more
Paperback, 179 pages
Published September 1st 2020 by West Virginia University Press
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Average rating 4.37  · 
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Roxane
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
These are wonderful stories. I love the focus on black women and their inner and outer lives. Philyaw’s voice is distinct and textured. The stories are beautifully crafted. A lovely collection.
Reggie
Nov 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-favorites
Society places a lot of pressure on ladies. Perhaps more so when these ladies are of the Church. The women who are often backbones of their communities, but afterthoughts when it comes time to celebrate, pay homage, or honor. The grace that these women walk on requires much effort since said line so thin. So thin that a lot of women fall off of it.

There are several women, however, who leap from that thin line of grace out to freedom in Deesha Philyaw's stunning first collection of stories, The S
...more
Read In Colour
Apr 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing

*taps 🎙️* Is this thing on? Yes? Ok. Let me introduce you to your new favorite author - Deesha Philyaw. Deesha isn't a new author, she's been writing for a minute, but what she does in The Secret Lives is something special. She flips the script and portrays "good church girls" as the real women and girls they are, not some perfect beings who worship at the altar 24/7 and never let their slip show.

The Secret Lives is not non-fiction, and I feel like that needs to be emphasized before it's tossse
...more
Jennifer
Nov 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: short-stories
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies goes in easy, like honey with a touch of spice.
It flows from one intimate relationship to another, expanding the heart as it goes, merging reader’s with writer’s. Contemporary and accessible, lush and wry, and with something all its own, this was one of my favorite reads of 2020.
Elyse  Walters
Soooo...
Okay.....
I agree with the community here in the land of Goodreads with all of the five stars....
BUT.....
It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting. Not that I was expecting anything… I must have totally fallen asleep after I reading all of your wonderful reviews....because I didn’t remember what I signed up for here.

My reaction:
I was either hungry or horny.

I was also fascinated with the many types of relationships- mother/daughter, men/women, women/women...
fathers of the clergy... frien
...more
BookOfCinz
These stories will have you clutching your pearls and fanning yourself! WOW

Deesha Philyaw’s collection of nine stories about church ladies is fresh, tender, biting, raw, deeply moving and just downright beautiful. I think there was a moment I was holding my breath while reading a story and I could only release after finishing. These stories beg to be read, and be read widely.

In The Secret Lives of Church Ladies we meet women and girls who are exploring their sexuality, while trying to be tha
...more
Brandice
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a short story collection about Black women balancing the church’s expectations and their own interests.

Short stories aren’t always my jam but I really enjoyed this collection touching on family, sexuality, motherhood, and relationships. There are 9 stories and they all felt like the right length. Unlike many collections (which is often a factor in my hesitant interest in wanting to read them), there were no “bust” stories here — They were all at least good,
...more
Barbara
“The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” is a collection of short stories about black women and their relationship to their church. In all the stories, the church plays a huge roll in how the ladies define themselves. At times, their lives are at odds with church doctrine, and always this quandary confuses the children of said church ladies.

There are nine stories in total. Sex plays a prominent roll in the stories along with the conflicted view of sex and the church. In one story, two devote women en
...more
Traci at The Stacks
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
These stories are so good. They’re unapologetically Black, humorous, sad, complex, full, and sometimes steamy too. I loved most of them and liked a few but overall really impressed. Philyaw has crafted a whole world and whole humans in so few words.
Lisa
Feb 23, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
[4+] A wonderful collection filled with heart and soul. I got to know and care for each the "church ladies" Philyaw portrays. Her characters are faced with sadness and family struggles but there is also plenty of hope and humor. After finishing each story, I wanted to keep on reading. And amazingly - all of these stories are excellent! ...more
Darryl Suite
Sep 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
FINAL REVIEW: I’m in love. I’m freaking out. And I need/want/crave more.

This collection reminded me why I love short stories. By Page 5, I knew this was going to be a firecracker of a collection. One of the key successes of this collection is how Philyaw manages to get you deeply invested in all the characters and scenarios almost immediately. By the first page of each story, you find yourself enraptured and needing to sprint through those pages. Think of your favorite dish: yes, there’s that fe
...more
Matthew
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Truth is, no one’s all good. And by that, I mean 100 percent good, wholly (holy?) good, not a bad bone in your body good. Those are all myths. Yeah, there are people we can consider a “good person”, but to suggest they don’t have a little bit of badness in them is a bit naïve if not disingenuous.

This is all relatively speaking, of course. I’m not suggesting every Peace Corps volunteer also has a proclivity for animal abuse. But I’d bet the house they, and every other inherently good person, hav
...more
Thomas
Appreciated this short story collection that delves into the interior and exterior lives of Black women and girls. As noted by other reviewers, Black women so often only are allowed to exist as caregivers or as saviors. In The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, Deesha Philyaw melts down these stereotypes and shows Black women in the midst of navigating their needs, desires, and passions, all while grappling with the double standards of the church.

My two favorite short stories included "Peach Cobbler
...more
Meike
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-read, usa
Now a Finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction 2020
This collection contains nine short stories focusing on Southern Black women who attend or attended church, but defy conservative religious norms. The book shines because it manages to give its characters distinct voices that draw readers into their world immediately - it's easy to feel with the group of (half-) sisters who just buried their selfish father and now contact the one half sister they haven't met yet, with the girl who lives
...more
Jessica Woodbury
4.5 stars. I haven't read a story collection in a very, very long time. There is a certain expectation I have when I pick one up, but sometimes a collection will entirely bust through that expectation and that is why I still pick them up sometimes. Because I want that experience. I was very happy to have it with this book.

My expectation is that a collection will be just fine all together. That some stories will be exquisite and others just okay, maybe a dud or two. But here, there was not a sin
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I knew from the description that this book would be up my alley and also felt the audio would be worth waiting for. The narrator is great and has a lot of nuance between characters, but I still would have liked each story in a different narrator's voice entirely.

The women in this book have forged their own paths, in relationships and motherhood, careers and other choices. Their lives, as many Black women's lives do, intersect with church and all the expectations and judgments that carries.

Highly
...more
Michelle
Feb 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Gotta think if this is a true five star or 4.5 that I’m rounding up. Regardless, an absolutely excellent collection of short stories. Thrilled to have read this book.

Rtc
Anna Luce
/ / / Read more reviews on my blog / / /

3 ½ stars

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a compelling fiction debut from a promising author. As the title suggests the stories in this collection are centred on Black women who have complex relationships to their church and to God. In a concise and stirring prose Deesha Philyaw explores the lives, desires, and fears of her characters, focusing on the friction between their beliefs—often instilled by their parents or communities—and their sense of se
...more
Alex
Oct 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Believe the hype. This National Book Prize finalist, a short story collection from a tiny university press, is as brilliant as everyone says it is. Touching on themes of race, sexuality, class, relationships, sex, family, daughters and mothers, to just name a few, Philyaw delivers a powerful collection, with each new story more engrossing than the last. Short story collections are often tricky for me. Either the collection has a couple of very good stories surrounded by ones less compelling, or ...more
Kathleen
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
National Book Award for Fiction Shortlist 2020. Nine beautifully written short stories exploring the conflict between church dogma and the personal freedom for black women and girls. Sex is a dominant theme while addressing sexuality, misogyny, hypocrisy, colorism and more. Enjoy Philyaw’s strong characters that include Tasheta from ‘Dear Sister’, Jael from ‘Jael’, Olivia from ‘Peach Cobbler’, Leelee and Rhonda from ‘Snowfall’, and Lyra from ‘How to Make Love to a Physicist’. Recommend.
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
A good short story collection about Black women, their relationships, religion, and sexuality. These stories were both meaningful and fun.
Tiyahna Ridley-Padmore
Jan 02, 2021 rated it really liked it
  This book is messy, beautiful and important  


The Secret Lives of Church Ladies is a poignant collection of essays about Black womanhood, freedom, sexuality and the Church. In her most recent novel, Deesha Philyaw introduces readers to nine women, each on their own journey of reconciling their yearnings and their liberation with their Christian faith. One woman, committed to finding a husband and being the perfect woman of faith, practices cognitive dissonance as she maintains an intimate rel
...more
Georgia
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020, southern
I chose this book initially because I loved the cover (it's so great) and was also intrigued by the title. I have been wanting to read more broadly, to get fresh perspectives, and to pick up more books by authors of color (despite being a POC myself, my books tend largely toward white authors and I grew up in a predominantly white culture.) This book definitely gave me insight into the lives of Black women, and while I usually steer clear of short stories because I feel I am just getting into th ...more
Gretchen Rubin
I don't read short stories very often, but heard so much good buzz about this collection that I couldn't resist. Wonderful. My favorite story was "Dear Sister." ...more
Bobbieshiann
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I know we are barely into the new year but .... Deesha Philyaw did something amazing here!
The only way I can describe this collection is by comparing it to a situation. It's like being in a room full of people with similarities weighing heavy on everyone's mind but no one is willing to speak out first. No one but Deesha.

This collection of short stories are amazing from beginning to end. To truly have someone speak on the conflictions of church and love. To witness the generational routines fal
...more
Nadine
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It's rare that I read a short story collection straight through like a novel, but I did with this one because I enjoyed the voice so much - by turns hilarious and touching. The characters are black women and girls with very different stories, but share an underlying kinship in their connection to church lady world - and what a world it is. All the stories are great, but my very favorites were Dear Sister (I swear, the last sentence actually winked at me), Instructions for Married Christian Husba ...more
chantel nouseforaname
Definitely one of the best works I've read this year.

I'm so grateful for the Toronto Public Library, and the fact that they no doubt took the recommendation from myself and others and bought this book for their platform. I requested it and they let me have it first, so thank you TPL!!

These stories by Deesha Philyaw were so good from beginning to end. Every story caused me mini palpitations, and took me on a rollercoaster/whirlwind of emotions.

As a Black woman who has divested from organized re
...more
Gabriella
I now can understand what people mean when they call a book “a revelation.” In The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, each of Deesha Philyaw’s nine stories revealed to me something new about the women I grew up with, and the woman I’m growing to become. This collection is so meaningful as someone who came up understanding womanhood from churched Black women. While the majority of these women were single, from my vantage point, even those who weren’t experienced acute dissatisfaction in their romanti ...more
Camryn
Dec 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
So this was probably the best book I’ve read all year. I started reading it on the subway and wasn’t expecting to finish it all in a day, but as soon as I got home, I just have to. This has everything. There’s a lot of exploration of what it’s like to be a Black queer woman. I love how this focuses on Black women, expectations placed on us and the way we are treated by others in our community. I didn’t necessarily feel *seen* but I felt like I could fall into this so easily. I also grew up in ch ...more
Robert Jr.
Mar 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Real quick: These stories are so rich and teeming with love, laughter, sorrow, and heartbreak. Such a necessary testimony.
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Deesha Philyaw's collection of short stories about Black women, sex, and the Black church, THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES is forthcoming from West Virginia University Press in Sept. 1, 2020. Deesha is the co-author of Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce, written in collaboration with her ex-husband. Her work has been listed as Notable in the Best American ...more

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