While we were doing dishes, there was a knock at the door. After a couple days of eager mail-checking followed by disappointment, Girl at the End of the World had arrived! Elizabeth Esther has been one of my very favorite bloggers for a long time, so it goes without saying that I was looking forward to reading her memoir, which was released on Tuesday.
I’m not going to beat around the bush on this – this is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. The writing is clear and sparkles with a real sense of voice and humor, even in many stories that make the reader want to rage or cry or both. Elizabeth’s vivid descriptions create a very clear feeling of place to her anecdotes – often I swear I could see the needle-strewn hills at Hillcrest Park or smell the pine tree that fell on Sister Desiree’s car. I felt like I was meeting Aristotle or Kathleen with her big hoop earrings. Many memoirs I’ve read convey events or themes but Girl at the End of the World is unique in how it creates a very compelling setting.
I would also say it’s one of the best books on faith I’ve ever read. It’s unflinching in its portrayal of spiritual abuse and although that might make it difficult to read for some, I think it makes it an especially important addition to the conversation. It’s far easier to minimize or ignore the impact of abusive practices in theory than when confronted with an actual story about their long term affects. While many readers (myself included) may not be able to directly relate to some of Elizabeth’s experiences, the parts that were closer to my personal experience were made all the more chilling by how normal they seem in evangelical culture. Whether it’s female-exclusive modesty teaching or purity culture, it’s worth examining how less “extreme” teachings and patterns of thought can still be harmful.
The other reason this is such an important book about faith is that it moves on from past pain without dismissing or minimizing it. It acknowledges past abuse and boldly names it for what it is, but also shows how Elizabeth is gradually able to move forward into a new future with her family. I can only speak for myself, but I feel like it would have been easy to put on a brave face and say “oh yes, I was in a cult but now I’m fine.” But instead, I appreciated her honesty. Forgiveness doesn’t mean staying in situations or relationships that are harmful. Healing and reconciliation are journeys rather than destinations. I was also impacted by Elizabeth’s deep love for God and desire for him through it all.
This book has inspired me to some of my own introspection – to think about my goals for my relationships and passions and how I might get back into seeking for God in my own life. I’m very grateful to Elizabeth Esther for sharing her story with us.