Julia Scheeres, 355 pgs, Counterpoint Press, counterpointpress.com, $15.95 U.S.
Man, this book will make you sad.
This memoir is told as a straightforward narrative — in the introduction, author Julia Scheeres reveals that the timeline has been compressed in order to make the narrative more compelling. However, this book is by no means an easy read, for Scheeres did not have an easy life. Jesus Land documents horrific abuse: sexual, physical and even spiritual.
Growing up in a rural family of fundamentalist zealots, surrounded by abusive relatives, Scheeres finds herself chugging Southern Comfort every morning in an attempt to get through high school. Needless to say, this attempt at self-medication does not end well.
Then there’s some misunderstandings and trouble with the law. Young Scheeres was faced with a choice: go home to her parents or be sentenced to join her brother David at a Christian Reform School in the Dominican Republic. It’s a no-brainer: Scheeres chooses to escape her parents and follow her brother to the school, the “Jesus Land” of the title. It’ll be great, right? A tropical vacation away from abusive relatives and a dead-end town… or so she thinks. Instead, what she finds in Jesus Land are sadistic councilors and snitching students who enforce a draconian system to in order to keep the inmates — I mean, students — in line.
David is the hero of this book, almost unseen but never forgotten; the idea of him a calm reassuring presence the author clings to like a life raft. Someday they’ll escape all this, put it all behind them and live together in Florida. Can they do it?
Jesus Land is not an easy read emotionally, but it is definitely a compelling story. It’s about survival, it’s about searching for family, it’s about not accepting the cards you were dealt and instead taking the steps necessary to build yourself a better life. (AG Pasquella)