Jesus Land by Julia Scheeres

If you ever want to fall apart in an emotional wreck, this is the book for you.  I sped through the first 200 pages, because as horrible as the story is, it’s addicting.  I got distracted by vacation, and it was a good two weeks before I was brave enough to pick up Jesus Land again.  I wanted desperately for Julia and David to have a happy ending, but I was terrified they wouldn’t.  I won’t tell you what I found out.

Jesus Land is excellently written, a first-person memoir written in present tense, so everything feels immediate and emotional.  Julia’s descriptions of growing up in an emotionally, physically, spiritually abusive family with her adopted black brother is horrific.  That they both get sent to the Dominican Republic to a Christian camp for rebellious teenagers that is even more abusive makes their story all the more horrifying, pitiable, and desperate.  Escuela Caribe has since closed, and I can only imagine that Jesus Land is largely to thank for it.  I am so glad Scheeres is speaking openly about her experiences.  Christianity has always been a home to people who would use God as a means to subjugate and intimidate others, and this has got to stop. 

In the midst of the horror, there is Julia and David’s relationship.  Although she is honest in her descriptions of their fights and betrayals (moments which are probably the most heart-wrenching in the whole book), their fierce love for each other shines through the hatred they experience from others.  Theirs is a beautiful relationship of familial love conquering racism and oppressive religion.  Those poor kids.  Ugh.  My heart is still hurting.

This is a book that is emotionally hard to read, but I think it is absolutely necessary to try.  The only way future Julias and Davids can be spared is if we open our eyes to their reality and do all we can to change things.

Book Jacket 51GRK3XyoLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Julia and her adopted brother, David, are sixteen years old.  Julia is white.  David is black.  It is the mid-1980s and their family has just moved to rural Indiana, a landscape of cottonwood trees, trailer parks, and an all-encompassing racism.  At home are a distant mother–more involved with her church’s missionaries than her own children–and a violent father.  In this riveting and heartrending memoir Julia Scheeres takes us from the Midwest to a place beyond imagining:  surrounded by natural beauty, the Escuela Caribe–a religious reform school in the Dominican Republic–is characterized by a disciplinary regime that extracts repentance from its students by any means necessary.  Julia and David strive to make it through these ordeals and their tale is relayed here with startling immediacy, extreme candor, and wry humor.

Release Date:  January 2005

Want another opinion?  Check out reviews by The New York Times and Hokie Thoughts.


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