Caroline 's Reviews > Jesus Land: A Memoir

Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres
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really liked it
bookshelves: memoir, she-wrote-it


Heartbreaking, shocking, touching, angering. This book is these things and more. Like The Glass Castle: A Memoir, Jesus Land is a memoir of an imperfect--to put it mildly--childhood. This riveting account opens with Julia Scheeres as a desperate sixteen-year-old. She recounts incidents from her younger years in plentiful flashbacks replete with vivid and heart-rending detail.

The memoir's strength lies in Scheeres's ability to make her young self and her "twin" adopted brother, David, come to life. Quite impressively, this is told in Scheeres's voice, but David's personality seems just as complete and three-dimensional as Scheeres's. She and her brother suffer in unspeakable ways, and readers feel each devastation and each injustice acutely. She couldn't have accomplished this with a cardboard rendering of this twin she loves to her very core. Their bond is truly remarkable and heart-warming and almost hard to believe. To be touched by the connection these two share is to feel better about humanity as a whole.

On the general technical level, Scheeres's memoir needed some tweaking. A noticeable tone-change slices the story into a distinct first and second half. Throughout this first half, Scheeres recounted occurrences with a certain emotional detachment while still stirring up plenty of emotion. What Scheeres presented is deeply unsettling and sad, but readers are allowed to feel those things on their own. During the second half, though, Scheeres's bitterness sneaked in. Her hatred for her reform school is palpable. Certainly, this is understandable; however, in the interest of consistency, the tone should have maintained its neutrality. In some ways an aloof recounting is more powerful; it lends the writing a certain sophistication. The first half is stronger than the second for this reason.

The best memoirs are true tell-alls, and Scheeres spared no details; nevertheless, she did run into some problems making judgment calls as to what was appropriate and inappropriate to include. Although her intimate writing style is one of her memoir's strengths, she veered toward the gratuitous at least one time. These instances stand out starkly and detract from an otherwise mature recounting. Admittedly, memoir-writing can be tricky, as the author has to decide what makes sense to expose to the world in the name of authenticity.

A twist in the memoir's final pages upends the story and confirms the adage that in many ways “truth is stranger than fiction.” Truth also can be worlds more devastating.

Final verdict: Four stars and an enthusiastic recommendation to fans of The Glass Castle.
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Reading Progress

December 22, 2012 – Shelved
December 26, 2012 – Started Reading
December 27, 2012 –
page 61
December 30, 2012 –
page 200
December 31, 2012 –
page 233
January 2, 2013 –
page 251
January 2, 2013 –
page 251
January 2, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 28, 2015 – Shelved as: memoir
January 28, 2015 – Shelved as: she-wrote-it

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Tesla That program in the Dominican Republic is NOT abusive. I was there, so trust me, I know. The staff there are wonderful and amazing and they love their students and truly want to help them. Her accounts of the program are NOT accurate AT ALL! She just wanted to find a way to get attention

message 2: by Caroline (last edited Oct 18, 2013 01:24PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Caroline Hi, Tesla. I'm glad to hear the program wasn't abusive while you were there and that you liked it. Obviously, anyone who was not a part of the program can only judge it based on what they hear from others who were.

Regardless of whether Scheeres exaggerated or even flat-out lied about her experience at Escuela Caribe (and I sincerely hope she did not, that she only just had a different experience from you, due to different staff members putting into practice a radically different philosophy), I still believe this book has value. Although it seems clear Scheeres was (possibly still is) bitterly angry over her experience at the reform school, her point in writing Jesus Land was to show the depth and uniqueness of her bond with her adopted "twin" brother. I personally think she succeeded very well in that regard and that this book is quite moving and one not easily forgotten.

As I said in my review, because I noticed a change in Scheeres's tone from the first half to the second (in other words, when it seemed her book began to veer into nothing more than ranting-about-reform-school territory), I docked a star from my personal rating. I saw that change in tone (and possibly a negative focus on Escuela Caribe that was excessive) as a flaw. I think memoir-writing especially has to be very carefully balanced, and I think here Scheeres lost some of her balance.

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