Monday, January 28, 2008

Julia Scheeres: Jesus Land

My quest to finish the "unread books A-Z in order" was derailed for a bit as I struggled for weeks with a DeLillo book and gave up. I skipped ahead to "Jesus Land," which I've been looking forward to reading. The memoir of a brother and sister growing up in a unique midwestern family, this book is almost impossible to put down or forget about. Julia and David grow up in a strict Calvinist family which includes two adopted black children in a time when this is considered not only bizarre and outlandish, but unacceptable. Scheeres looks back on the racism that she and her black brothers (especially her brothers) face from within and without of the family. The children's lives take bizarre turns as they are eventually shipped off to a reform school in the Dominican Republic and mom is left happily alone with God as her only family.

Scheeres life is told heartwrenchingly, and she honors her brother, and their bond, in a poignant and often humorous way. The events are so odd that they must be true, but it's almost hard to believe that life can be so cruel: adults "disciplining" the children in their care, children refusing to see past the ingrained racism of their parents, and more. The bond of these two children, raised as brother and sister but rarely treated as more than outcasts who happen to be living together, is what keeps "Jesus Land" from being the most depressing book on the shelf. Don't miss it.