Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther
I received this book for free to review through the Blogging for Books program.
Last night, I read the book Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther in its entirety. The only bad thing I have to say about this book is the day on which I chose to read it. It was the night before a busy day and I meant only to read a chapter or two, but I became so immersed in her story that I realized I was only a few chapters from the end and it was 2am. I literally could not put it down.
I think that my reaction to this book, from a spiritual perspective, is at first a little odd. Reading EE’s (as she calls herself on her blog) words, it was as if I related to some of the brainwashing experience— but of course, I didn’t actually grow up in a cult and I don’t consider myself brainwashed (every time someone told her that asking questions is a sin, I wanted to call my youth minister and thank him for encouraging questions—faith is so much more real when its your own and not imposed). It’s like she is able to capture so much in her writing that she makes the experience tangible, makes it real. Yet, looking back at the reading experience, I feel like there were many experiences she had that remind me of problems in my own faith tradition, albeit significantly worse. The Assembly seems to me like an extreme version of the already extreme right wing of the Church (the ones who considered themselves more Catholic than the pope when Benedict XVI was still on the throne—many of whom have found their groups being censored by Rome). I find the parallels slightly terrifying, but that’s for another blog.
EE not only grew up in The Assembly, a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group; the founder of the group, George Geftakys, is her grandfather, giving her at a unique perspective and insight into The Assembly from an early time until its demise. A small Christian sect that easily fits into the “cult” category, The Assembly used brain-washing and mind control tactics (essentially making all members terrified to disagree with anyone in the hierarchy) in addition to abusive corporal punishment on their children in the same line as the Pearls’ (in the book, EE even indicates that she thinks her grandfather’s church was worse than what the Pearls were known for). The Assembly was, along with many similar cults, guilty of misinterpreting scripture to make women submissive in the extreme, blaming every sin of the man on the weakness of the woman.
The interesting thing about memoirs of young people escaping from cults is that you already know the end when you pick it up: they get out. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be writing the story to begin with. With Elizabeth Esther, it’s a little different. Even though I certainly baulked at the things that she was taught in The Assembly, you can tell from her storytelling how intensely she believed the flawed theology that her parents and grandparents passed on to her, how much it hurt her to leave the community that she had been with since birth. You cry with her and agonize over the decision that she must eventually make: to leave The Assembly. It is easy to understand, and empathize with, her reasons for doing so. Yet, it is heartbreaking.
Elizabeth Esther is a phenomenal writer, especially given her past. The opportunity to walk with her on her journey is an opportunity to share sacred moments in her life. Her courage in writing this book and doing the work she does with survivors shines through in her willingness to share intimate and personal details about her life: spiritual, family, everything. She holds little back and it makes the story that much more touching.
If you want to read this book, you can check out the first chapter here. You can find more information on the publisher’s website and on Elizabeth Esther’s page.
I give Girl at the End of the World a 5/5—a rare honor, but deserved.
Note: This book, while wonderful and touching, is an emotional roller coaster. At some points, I sobbed reading it. At other points, my hand was clenched into a fist. I don’t recommend reading this book when you’re already feeling emotionally drained or depressed. It’s a great book, but the same writing that makes it so great also allows you to experience some small piece of the agony with the author, making it dangerous if you’re in an already emotionally unhealthy state.