Jesus Land

Jesus Land: A Memoir. By Julia Scheeres. Counterpoint. $23.

Jesus Land is a harrowing memoir of coming-of-age amid religious zealotry in 1980s Indiana. When she’s three, Julia Scheeres’ parents adopt two black boys into their white evangelical family. While Julia becomes best friends with her new brother David, their father mostly ignores his sons, save for whupping them, and their mother advises them to turn the other cheek to the racist violence they encounter outside the home (getting beaten up is no excuse for being late to dinner). As the kids enter adolescence, things start to fall apart. Julia starts sneaking sips of Southern Comfort, and bookish David, in increasing danger at home and at school, becomes self-destructive.

Their parents’ response is to ship them off to a fundamentalist reform school in the Dominican Republic, where sanctimonious sadism reaches a new level. The staff punches the kids, forces them to do manual labor, and viciously humiliates them, all while bellowing, “You are not right with God!” In reaction, Julia and David learn to fake being saved and to trust no one but each other.

Scheeres manages to balance her righteous rage against fanatical hypocrisy with a smart sense of humor. Jesus Land is a poignant and heartbreaking story, reported by a survivor of family values gone awry.