Jesus Land

When it comes to memoirs of abuse and juvenile "behavior modification programs," Julia Scheeres' Jesus Land is the antithesis of Mia Fontaine's Come Back.

Mia's memoir has a happy-ending feel to it and provides a mostly positive view of the intensive recovery program she endured as a youth at Spring Creek Lodge and Morava Academy. It's the sort of book that made me feel good to be alive after reading it. Julia's memoir, on the other hand, paints a horrible view of her experience at a similiar program in the Dominican Republic, and it made me feel terribly depressed afterwards. But that's not a bad thing, because the truth is supposed to hurt, right?

Jesus Land describes a nightmarish situation in which Julia's abusive, hyperreligious, Midwestern parents unjustly send their adopted African American child, David, to a reform program in the Carribean. Julia soon follows David there, and they end up suffering greatly at the hands of the program's administrators, whom Julia portays as heartless fundamentalist psychopaths (much like Julia's parents).

Basically, if you're looking for a reason to despise religion, this book may be even more effective than Hitchens' God is Not Great.

Julia grew up to become a reporter for the Los Angeles Times (and she recently reviewed Lynn Stegner's new book for the NY Times), but her adopted brother David died young. This memoir covers her tight relationship with David and their struggle to overcome ignorance and oppression veiled as religious conviction.

I'm not in a position to say whether or not these high-priced and controversial "behavior modification programs" are inherently good or bad, or, perhaps more relevantly, whether Christianity is good or bad, but my impression after reading these two excellent books is that, like pretty much everything else in life, it depends on the situation.

Purchase Jesus Land at Powell's.

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