Newsflash: I Moved

Newsflash: I Moved

I feel at this point it would be difficult not to know this because most people get here either from Instagram or Facebook, but I recently relocated from Marfa, TX to Santa Fe, NM. It’s been an interesting week, to say the least. I’ve interviewed for a few jobs, talked to a lot of strangers, read books in a couple bars, and been catcalled almost as many times as I was in Peru (who knew that was a thing here?). I started a part-time job today, so Monday was dedicated entirely to feeling more normal.

Moving interrupts you. Even if you’re leaving a place where you felt lonely, moving somewhere new renders you entirely alone. There’s a huge distinction between the two. I’ve been experiencing a lot of ups and down in the last week, and so, having Monday entirely free, I decided to do something to feel like myself again. I went exploring.

I’ve been doing a little of that here in Santa Fe, but yesterday I wanted to finally get up to Taos and see what all the fuss was about. And while it wasn’t the hippie fantasy dreamland I expected, it was still a hell of a day.

The road to Taos
The road to Taos

I drove into Taos through a mountain pass that twists and writhes along the Rio Grande, at times mere inches from the edge of the gorge. Around the last turn, the landscape opens up into a wide vista that allows the viewer to see for miles, over distant mountains, the gorge a shadowy depression along the left side of one’s field of vision. It’s difficult to capture with words or photographs how breathtaking it is. I believe my words were, “WHAT?! *giggle* NO WAY ARE YOU SERIOUS?!”

I found free parking north of the touristy plaza and set out exploring (and buying small gifts for my various penpals and a few friends around the world, just for fun). I found a bookstore–let’s be real, I found it before I drove to Taos and it was honestly my goal–but surprisingly was unimpressed with the offerings.

Taos is charming and beautiful. There are flowers and flourishing shade trees everywhere, which are a relief from the relentless sun. Buskers sing in secluded squares, and surprising treats hide around every corner (hi, have you every had a goat cheese chocolate truffle? if not, you should try it).

My favorite Taos resident
My favorite Taos resident
Brodsky's Bookshop
Brodsky’s Bookshop
I love the colors in Taos
I love the colors in Taos
Every house is adorable
Every house is adorable
So many blooms buzzing with bees
So many blooms buzzing with bees
Yuuuummm I'm glad there's one of these in Santa Fe, too
Yuuuummm I’m glad there’s one of these in Santa Fe, too
Cutest shop award goes to
Cutest shop award goes to
Op. Cit. Books
Op. Cit. Books
Hanging signs are my favorite
Hanging signs are my favorite
The mountains watching over Taos
The mountains watching over Taos

Once my feet grew tired with wandering, I made my way back to my car and ventured over to Taos Mesa Brewing company. Their lager, pilsner, golden ale, altbier, and porter are all spot on. I especially loved the lager (the lightest) and the porter (the darkest, but it didn’t sit heavy in my stomach like many dark beers do).

Taos Mesa beeeeeer
Taos Mesa beeeeeer

Inside it was stiflingly hot, so I took my flight of beer out onto the patio and enjoyed the desert wind and my book. There were two massive Great Danes traveling with their friendly mom. She and I began to talk, in addition to one other solo traveler there to enjoy the weather and beer. He was from Wisconsin, she from Portland, and me from I don’t even know where anymore. She is traveling across the country in her CR-V with her two giant dogs. I can’t imagine how cramped that car must feel during the hours of travel. The gentleman we were talking to gave me a recommendation for a hike that was only about half an hour away, and here we come to my favorite part of this day.

The Williams Lake trail leads to Williams Lake (duh?), which lies in a valley in the Rockies at an elevation of roughly 11,000 feet. The incline of the hike itself isn’t incredibly difficult (a little over 1000 feet), which means my little car had to struggle to get up the mountain so I could start. The first quarter mile of the trail takes one through a quiet and darkened ski village, largely unpopulated in the summer months, and past a ski lift that doesn’t take anyone anywhere at the moment. The trail proper begins in earnest soon after leaving the village, and along its right side gushes a torrent of snowmelt that is, frankly, one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen or heard.

A great start to this hike, for sure.
A great start to this hike, for sure.

The trail eventually leads away from this stream (waterfall? I know it’s not a river, but I’m not sure what it’s called) and winds up the mountain, soon leading the walker through snow. At first in patches, but then…THEN. There is an open patch of ground where I met some fellow hikers on their way down, and I asked them some questions about the trail. They helped me by telling me two things: 1) Most of the last mile would be entirely over snow, and 2) I needed to follow the blue dots on the trees and the footprints in the snow to stay on the trail.

Wilderness ahead
Wilderness ahead
The last easy part
The last easy part

I can’t even express how excited I was to see so much snow. It was everywhere. The odd thing was that it wasn’t even cold, so I wonder how it stays on the ground when it’s so warm out. Being from a place that is about as opposite from mountains as it’s possible to be, I don’t know anything about how they work. I was wearing a tank top and was still nice and toasty warm. In any case, snow there was, sometimes several feet deep, lying in small hills one had to venture over to keep moving. I most definitely ate it at one point, face planting in the snow and losing my glasses. It was rather amusing, but I’m glad I was alone, so no one could witness my defeat by frozen precipitation.

It was at this point that an alarming thought entered my mind: are there grizzly bears in this part of the range? OH GOD ARE THERE?! And once I thought this, I was completely unable to put it from my mind. Google was not an option, as I’d left cell service far behind, and I stopped every 30 feet, convinced I’d heard something. Eventually, I put it to myself that I could either go on and see something potentially life changing, or turn back in order not to die at the claws of an angry, hungry bear. I finally talked myself into believing there were no grizzlies in the area and kept on. The other hikers I met on the trail convinced me it was worth it.

Oh heavens, was it ever. I wish I could hold on to the feeling of turning a rocky corner and catching my first sight of the lake, after struggling over slippery snow in wet boots with soaking, cold socks, in fear of my life at the mercy of imaginary bears. I’ve never hiked through snow, nor have I ever been that high up under my own power, I think. My lungs were screaming and I’d bent my left knee backward more than once (ow). But it was all, all, all, ALL SO WORTH IT.

Just doesn't
Just doesn’t
do it
do it
justice.
justice.
So you know I was there...hi!
So you know I was there…hi!
Hi again!
Hi again!
Just...are you serious?
Just…are you serious?
These clouds caused a few problems later
These clouds caused a few problems later

As I started this hike fairly late in the day, it started to get dark on the way down, which worried me. Having never been anywhere this remote by myself, nor in a mountain forest with trees this tall, I didn’t realize that the sun seems to disappear earlier than it does on clear land. So though the day was not nearly advanced enough to be considered anything close to sundown, behind the mountain and in the forest, it looked like twilight. At some points, I could barely see the blue dots on the trees, and the footprints were much easier to see on the way up than they were on the way down when it was darker. At one point, I swear I heard a bear, though you may think I was imagining things. Regardless, I made it down the trail much faster than I made it up (in part because I was slipping on snow a lot of the way down).

Fortunately, the only animal I saw was this one.

Cute and harmless, thankfully
Cute and harmless, thankfully

I spent a very happy drive home in the dusty, golden dusk, the mountains layers of blue paper in the distance, listening to the smokey brogue of Alexi Murdoch, my heart singing with trees and mountains and snow. I think this day was one of the best of my life. Whether my fears were real or imagined, the feeling of forging ahead on my own, in spite of those fears, left me feeling powerful and confident. I want to hold on to the memory of this day forever.

The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold, Book 1

The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold, Book 1

Cover image for The Reader
Cover image for The Reader

This is perhaps one of the most unique adventure stories I’ve read it a long time. I really admire how authors can still come up with interesting and different frameworks for the same themes and tropes. Though we seem to read the same story a thousand times, creative and talented writers make it so we never notice that’s what’s happening. Traci Chee is one of those authors.

“Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her Aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book–a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed–and punish the people responsible.” —Indiebound

Books in which literacy is not common, or in which it’s repressed and discouraged, or in which books are banned–these are common things. A book in which books, or even written language as we know it, do not exist? That’s something new. One imagines you’d have to completely recreate the fabric (dare I say meaning?) of your fictional society to make it work. Of course, in this novel, books and reading do exist, but in secret. There is only one place in the whole world (that we know of so far), where books exist and people know how to read. And then, there are only a few people who know how to read (under ten, as far as I can tell). I love this premise, especially because it makes books the focal point of the story, and emphasizes their value.

The book that Sefia carries is a very special book–one that people are willing to go to great lengths to get their hands on. As the novel progresses, the readers themselves begin to realize what the book contains and how very precious it is. There are several different storylines that occur in the novel, and all of them slowly come together for a couple of very cool moments in which the reader realizes just how skillfully a web is woven with the different threads of plot.

SONY DSC

This novel is full of a lot of really fun characters that I enjoyed getting to know. I wish Sefia weren’t so sad, but she’s had a hard life, and her reluctance to trust and allow herself to love are both understandable. She’s tough, but she’s scared. Everyone she’s ever loved has been taken from her, and that plays big in how she interacts with other people. Archer, if possible, is even more messed up than Sefia. His life not only includes loss but also abduction and being forced to commit violent acts. When they meet and for several weeks after, Archer cannot speak at all. Sefia and Archer develop a bond that goes beyond spoken language, communicating with signs, eye contact, and more. Their friendship is one that develops out of necessity but is not less enviable for it.

This book takes place on both land and sea, and I love all of the adventures of Captain Reed and his crew related in the Book. They venture to the western edge of the world and encounter numerous trials along the way. At first, their story seems completely out of context with Sefia and Archer’s journey, but once again the Book proves to be more than it seems. These guys were my personal favorite part of the book. Who doesn’t love a good piratey adventure?

StockSnap_IVGOG68BOF

This is a great work of YA fiction for fans of adventure stories and fantasy. Chee’s world-building and character development are world-class, and I really look forward to the next installment of this series.

 

The Illuminae Files

The Illuminae Files

The Illuminae Files is not the sort of series I normally go for, by any means. I really don’t like books like this because I think they’re gimmicky. This one, though, is really worth looking past that, if you’re like me and hesitate to pick up a book like this.

Cover image for Illuminae
Cover image for Illuminae

“This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she’d have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded.
The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that’s little more than a speck at the edge of the universe. Now with enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra–who are barely even talking to each other–are forced to evacuate with a hostile warship in hot pursuit.
But their problems are just getting started. A plague has broken out and is mutating with terrifying results; the fleet’s AI may actually be their enemy, and nobody in charge will say what’s really going on. As Kady hacks into a web of data to find the truth, it’s clear the only person who can help her is the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never speak to again.
Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents–including emails, maps, files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more–Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.”–Indiebound

Cover image for Gemina
Cover image for Gemina

“Moving to a space station at the edge of the galaxy was always going to be the death of Hanna’s social life. Nobody said it might actually get her killed.
The sci-fi saga that began with the breakout bestseller Illuminae continues on board the Jump Station Heimdall, where two new characters will confront the next wave of the BeiTech assault.
Hanna is the station captain’s pampered daughter; Nik the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. But while the pair is struggling with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, little do they know that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall, carrying news of the Kerenza invasion.
When an elite BeiTech strike team invades the station, Hanna and Nik are thrown together to defend their home. But alien predators are picking off the station residents one by one, and a malfunction in the station’s wormhole means the space-time continuum might be ripped in two before dinner. Soon Hanna and Nik aren’t just fighting for their own survival; the fate of everyone on the Hypatia–and possibly the known universe–is in their hands.
But relax. They’ve totally got this. They hope.
Once again told through a compelling dossier of emails, IMs, classified files, transcripts, and schematics, Gemina raises the stakes of the Illuminae Files, hurling readers into an enthralling new story that will leave them breathless.” —Indiebound

These books are fast-paced and exciting. They’re huge, but reading them doesn’t take long at all because the books are difficult to put down, and the illustrations, documents, and other unique formatting make for easy reading. It’s difficult for me to draw a line between unique and gimmicky, but the format of this novel didn’t bother me as much as I expected. Sometimes it didn’t feel like “real reading,” but once I got past my mental block and accepted it for what it was, I just had fun with it.

These books are very plot-driven, obviously. There’s a little characterization that can happen when most of what’s happening is narrated in chat windows and video transcripts. Mostly, the guys are love-sick and the girls are tough and rebellious. I didn’t really mind this, though. Sometimes you just know what you’re getting into. I like that the girls really get a chance to shine in these novels though. I especially really liked Hanna, who should have a spoiled princess mindset, but who is actually gritty, physically strong, and has the ability to make really hard choices, often at the expense of what she personally wants.

My favorite part of this series, though, is Aidan, the AI who goes crazy and causes lots of problems (definitely not the only problems though–evil, corrupt corporations and zombie viruses and broken wormholes cause problems, too). In addition to being the most interesting plot device (character?) of the entire series, he’s also just kind of….funny. The concept of a homicidal computer is amusing to me, in a really dark way, but that’s old news–lots of films and books have used it though. His personality, though, often made me laugh out loud, as did the interactions of the human characters with him. His confusion and inability to understand the ways humans behave provide much-needed comic relief.

I know that not everyone enjoyed these books, but I recommend the series. They’re fun, fast, and funny. Lovers of YA, even if you think that this sort of book is silly, or perhaps “not real” reading, try to put aside your biases and just enjoy the books for what they are.

Cruel Winter

Cruel Winter

Cover image for Cruel Winter
Cover image for Cruel Winter

I hesitated to read this book (despite it being shoved into my hands by someone I like a whole heck of a lot) because I’m a wimp, and I’m not afraid to admit it. Yet, despite its horror designation, it reads more like a kid’s adventure movie from the 80s, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself not scared at all (okay, except for like, one part).

“Jack Harding and his friends feel sorry for the new kid in town. His name is Ronnie Winter, and he’s a bit of a weirdo. So when the local bullies try to beat him up, Jack and his friends step in to protect Ronnie — and that’s their first mistake. Because Ronnie Winter is not like any other kid they’ve ever known. He lives at the old Steadman place, in the big creepy mansion that used to be a mental hospital. And his young, beautiful mother has a strange way of making Jack promise to be Ronnie’s friend…forever.

The closer Jack and his friends get to Ronnie, the colder it gets. The town is plunged into a wave of brutal snowstorms — and plagued by a series of gruesome murders. And as the grisly death toll mounts, Jack realizes that Ronnie is surrounded by something far more powerful than a mother’s love — he’s guarded by a force of unspeakable evil that will torture and destroy everything in its path…” —Goodreads

This book is pulpy in a big way. It’s mostly cheese, with a little suspense and some decent character development thrown in. It’s pleasant in the way reading sometimes should be: it allows you to switch your brain off and just become engrossed in a silly story. I was told that the book’s intended audience is young adults, but nothing I’ve found online suggests that. I think it’s just a not-very-scary first attempt at horror. Mostly it reminds me of every episode of Scooby-Doo: about things that are scary in theory, but this particular execution is not.

Do you know that trick that authors have of giving a juvenile voice to a third person narrator? We see that in this novel, and I wonder if that’s what renders this less scary than it might be otherwise. The novel is about children, and for most of the novel, the narrator describes the thoughts and actions of children. They’re not very imaginative kids, and the novel is set in a time that seems quaint compared to what we’re living now. Some of the expletives the kids use made me laugh out loud, and it’s cute because they think they’re really tough. That bully though…he’s something else.

The plot did what it was intended to do: kept me engrossed and entertained. I’ve trained myself out of the bad habit of trying to guess what’s going to happen next so I couldn’t tell you if you’ll be able to guess what comes. In all honesty, there don’t seem to be many plot twists. Just a series of events that follow one another. That’s not a criticism, however. We’ve become used to plot twists in recent years, but there was a time when we could read books without them. Try it! It’s not so bad.

A more practiced author, I think, would have given us a little more in the way of character development. Jack is the most fleshed-out, followed by Cassie. Ronnie and the rest of the gang seem a little flat, though they fulfill their purpose well. I enjoyed Emma as a character, and I would have liked to see more of her, though her storyline and ultimately heroic dénouement, despite being almost entirely separate from the rest of the story, was nonetheless entertaining.

This book belongs more in the category of speculative, urban fantasy, rather than horror. Regardless of where you shelve it, definitely save this title for a pool day or a day at the beach, when you need one eye on the page but you can save most of your brain for other activities. It’s a funny, quick read if you want something that doesn’t demand much more from you than simply allowing yourself to be entertained.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

WARNING*** This post could potentially be spoiler-y, depending how sensitive you are to that sort of thing. Proceed with caution. That said, I feel like most people already know what the deal is with this book, so read on.

Cover image for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
Cover image for All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

I was hesitant to read this book due to its subject matter. I knew that it involved drugs and the love between a grown man and a young girl, and I worried that it would be tawdry and disturbing. I read Lolita earlier this year, and while I recognize its value as a contribution to the canon, it still bothered me on a deep level. This did not have the same effect on me at all.

“A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives.

As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It’s safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy’s family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world.“–Indiebound.org

What sticks out to me most about this novel is the simple, matter-of-fact way that Greenwood tells her story. There are a lot of ugly themes in this novel, yet the author barrels into them head-on. For so many people, a life like Wavy’s is not unusual, and Greenwood doesn’t tell the story as if we should feel sorry for Wavy. She simply offers the story to her readers as is, for them to take or leave as they wish. Wavy is a beautiful character–a child scarred by her mother early in life, who never quite outgrows the fears that her mother instills in her at an extremely young age. She is fierce, though, and strong–so much stronger than her delicate, ethereal frame and features would suggest. Kellen is a lovable oaf, whose kindness belies his appearance. I don’t think I’ve found a character so endearing in a really long time.

Wavy and Kellen are a conundrum for me. On the one hand is the reaction that is pre-programmed into us, to know that sexual exploitation of a child is wrong. On the other, though, you have Wavy relying on and loving the only adult in her life who has ever accepted and loved her purely for herself. Kellen is the only person who has never tried to change her or coax her out of her ways. He simply loves her, and isn’t that what we all want? Someone who sees and loves us, and doesn’t try to change us? In the end, I accepted this story for what it was: one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve ever read.

Was it disturbing? On a level, but one that was significantly less troublesome to my conscience than I expected. This is one of those “exception to the rule” situations that neither my heart nor my logical brain had trouble accepting.  So I was warned about this book, but I was not nearly as troubled by most of it as I expected to be.

I thought that this novel would be too much for me, which is why I passed it up when it was a Book of the Month Club selection. With its themes of heavy drug abuse, child neglect, and underage romantic interests, I was scared of it. When it won the BOTM Book of the Year award, I was, frankly, shocked that so many people could be moved by a story with such dark themes. If you, too, passed this up because you were afraid of it, I urge you to reconsider. Please read this book. It is unutterably lovely, and my poor words cannot do it justice.

 

The Sun Is Also A Star

The Sun Is Also A Star

Cover image of The Sun Is Also A Star
Cover image of The Sun Is Also A Star

Nicola Yoon has become one of those authors whose work I will automatically read whenever she releases a new title. Once again, I was completely swept away by her beautiful writing and her delightful characters.

Natasha: I’m a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny. Or dreams that will never come true. I’m definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him. Not when my family is twelve hours away from being deported to Jamaica. Falling in love with him won’t be my story.
Daniel: I’ve always been the good son, the good student, living up to my parents’ high expectations. Never the poet. Or the dreamer. But when I see her, I forget about all that. Something about Natasha makes me think that fate has something much more extraordinary in store–for both of us.
The Universe: Every moment in our lives has brought us to this single moment. A million futures lie before us. Which one will come true?” —Indiebound.org

Natasha and Daniel are two wonderful kids facing pressures that no one should have to face, much less people so young. Daniel contends daily with a hateful brother and the weight of all his parents’ expectations and regrets. Natasha goes head-to-head with the US government in an attempt to save her family from deportation. One fateful day brings them together, and oh, what a day it is. She’s brilliant, logical, and fierce, while he is romantic, thoughtful, and passionate. It’s difficult not to get sucked into their love story and hope that they find a way to be together.

Though it’s a work of fiction, and authors can do whatever they want with fiction, it’s hard for the reader to not be sucked in and believe in the concept of fate bringing lovers together. In this novel, one almost believes that destiny and true love are real. Time and again, Natasha and Daniel seem thrown together by forces larger than themselves, even when it seems other, darker forces are trying to keep them apart. Yoon’s ability to reawaken the child-like, starry-eyed belief in true love is uncanny. I’m a grown woman with a lot of experience and heartbreak under my belt, and Yoon makes me feel like anything is possible.

However, in the words of Shakespeare, the course of true love never did run smooth, and in addition to reducing me to a squealing, romantic teenager again, Yoon’s writing also held me in the grip of suspense as I wondered what would happen to Daniel and Natasha. After all, their love was up against a lot of really tough stuff. This novel simultaneously filled me with hope and dread. I wanted to reach the end, and yet I was terrified to reach the end.

Another thing that adds depth to the novel is when the author takes a step back from the main characters of the novel and provides short snippets of insight into minor supporting characters: the backgrounds of Natasha and Daniel’s parents, the secret desires of her immigration lawyer and his secretary, the reason Daniel’s brother is the way he is, etc. I loved these glimpses into the lives of some of the people that make up the kaleidoscope of New York City. I know they are fictional, but it gets the reader thinking about the people around them–those humans who are minor characters in your story, but are the main characters in their own.

I highly recommend this novel by an author who understands exactly how to yank at her readers’ heartstrings. Character, setting, and plot come together to ensure an unforgettable reading experience. You should also read Everything, Everything because that, too, is amazing!

Going Clear

Going Clear

Cover image for Going Clear
Cover image for Going Clear

Honestly, after what I read in this book, I’m a bit afraid to even put this on the Internet. I will comfort myself in two ways: the first is that this blog doesn’t get read by that many people, so the likelihood anyone from the church launching a malicious campaign against me is low, and the second is that I probably won’t write much about this book anyway. I’ve long been fascinated by this subject, and I’ve wanted to read this book since its release event at BookPeople when I was working there in 2013.

“A clear-sighted revelation, a deep penetration into the world of Scientology by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Looming Tower, the now-classic study of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attack. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with current and former Scientologists–both famous and less well known–and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative ability to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology.
At the book’s center, two men whom Wright brings vividly to life, showing how they have made Scientology what it is today: The darkly brilliant science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, whose restless, expansive mind invented a new religion. And his successor, David Miscavige–tough and driven, with the unenviable task of preserving the church after the death of Hubbard.
We learn about Scientology’s complicated cosmology and special language. We see the ways in which the church pursues celebrities, such as Tom Cruise and John Travolta, and how such stars are used to advance the church’s goals. And we meet the young idealists who have joined the Sea Org, the church’s clergy, signing up with a billion-year contract.
In Going Clear, Wright examines what fundamentally makes a religion a religion, and whether Scientology is, in fact, deserving of this constitutional protection. Employing all his exceptional journalistic skills of observation, understanding, and shaping a story into a compelling narrative, Lawrence Wright has given us an evenhanded yet keenly incisive book that reveals the very essence of what makes Scientology the institution it is.” —Indieboung.org

It’s difficult, as an intelligent, independent-minded person to understand what draws people into cults like this, especially when it is so blatantly obvious the founder was a pathological liar and mentally unstable. Then again, it’s easy to know that when someone else has done the research for you, and nearly impossible to know it when the truth has been hidden from you. Wright is an award-winning author, and this book was incredibly detailed and researched.

The first third of the book or so is a heavily detailed biography of their founder, L. Ron Hubbard. His lying and make-believe and delusions began long before he started a religion. He was a prolific, and by all account, talented writer across a range of genres, from Western epics to Science Fiction. The problem with this talent, however, is that you probably don’t want a Science Fiction writer to write your religious texts. It calls all of his visions, his research, and enlightenment into question.

It doesn’t help that official records constantly refute the things he claims about himself: where he served in WWII, the injuries he sustained, his ability to heal himself. The fact that he claims he was psychologically evaluated and his mental health cleared when no record of this exists. Time and again Wright relies on his own research and that of those who’ve researched before him to discredit and prove false claims made by Hubbard and the church. Wright’s examination of the claims of both the founder and the church is extensive.

The most disturbing part of this book are the many accounts of human rights violations. Abuse, neglect, imprisonment, kidnapping, and what closely resembles slavery are among the accusations made by former members of the church. I had heard veiled references to the horrors inflicted on adherents to this religion, and I knew that it was difficult for people to leave, but I never imagined the extent to which the depravity goes. It’s my hope that the church embellishes the high numbers of membership they claim to have because it makes my heart knowing there are so many people looking for help in the arms of the church and instead only finding abuse and terror.

Shortly after finishing this book, I began watching Hulu’s The Path, and after reading this book I can definitely pick out which parts of the show’s cult are based on Scientology. It’s an interesting knowledge to have. I love learning new things, even when they’re incredibly disturbing. If you’re interested in this subject, I highly recommend reading this book. It’s difficult to put down, and difficult to believe that it’s actually non-fiction. Wright’s book reads like fiction. It’s intense, engaging, and full of anecdotes and dialogue that pull you as a reader into the story. I haven’t read many books on this subject, but it seems to me that this must be one of the better, more thorough ones.