Synopses & Reviews
With a harrowing poetic voice, this contemporary page-turner is perfect for fans of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, Julie Berry's All The Truth That's in Me, and the works of Ellen Hopkins.
The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust.
And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.
Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it's clear that Minnow knows somethingbut she's not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed ofif shes willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.
The Sacred Lies of Minnow By is a hard-hitting and hopeful story about the dangers of blind faithand the power of having faith in oneself.
"Before I Die gutted me as no work of art has done in recent memory....Even as Downham plunges into unabashedly sentimental territory...Tessa's plight never turns gloopy or cloying. In luminous prose that rings completely true, Downham earns every tear she wrings from her readers. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"[W]renching....Because her experience feels so palpable, readers will believe that the novel's final pages might offer a crystalline vision of death. Lucid language makes a painful journey bearable, beautiful and transcendent." Kirkus Reviews
Tessa has just months to live. Fighting back against hospital visits, endless tests, drugs with excruciating side-effects, Tessa compiles a list. It's her "To Do Before I Die" list. And number one is Sex.
Released from the constraints of 'normal' life, Tessa tastes new experiences to make her feel alive while her failing body struggles to keep up. Tessa's feelings, her relationships with her father and brother, her estranged mother, her best friend, and her new boyfriend, all are painfully crystallised in the precious weeks before Tessa's time finally runs out.
About the Author
Stephanie Oakes lives in Spokane, Washington, and works as a library media teacher in a combined middle and elementary school. She has an MFA in poetry from Eastern Washington University. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is her debut novel.
Reading Group Guide
1. Describe Tessas relationship with her father. How has this relationship been shaped by Tessas illness? Debate whether Cal, Tessas younger brother, feels neglected by his father. Discuss Tessas relationship with her mother. Why did she leave home? When does Tessa miss her mother the most?
2. Discuss the true qualities of a friend. Which of these qualities best describes Tessa and Zoeys friendship? What does Zoey offer Tessa that her father cannot give? Why does Tessas father call Zoey when Tessa wont get out of bed? Cal hates Zoey. How does Tessa explain her friendship with Zoey to her little brother?
3. Tessas father is frustrated when she becomes withdrawn. He says, “If you wont talk about it, how can I help?” (p. 2) How does this withdrawal represent the first stage of grief? Why is talking about feelings always better than keeping them to yourself?
4. Discuss why Tessa doesnt want to return to school. She says that Zoey is the only person at school that isnt afraid of her illness. Explain how difficult it is for teenagers to deal with the terminal illness of a classmate. What might Zoey say to other students that would help them know how to interact with Tessa?
5. Tessa writes her private thoughts on the wall beside her bed. Why does she let Zoey read what she has written?
6. Zoey tells Tessa that its all right to be afraid. How does Tessa reveal her fear? How does she use her hat to hide her fear? Discuss how Cal, Adam and Tessas father express their fear.
7. How is Tessas list a form of bargaining and acceptance? At what point in the novel does Tessa accept the fact that she is dying? Explain how her list helps her “get on with living.” Which item on her list is the most dangerous? Why does doing illegal things like shoplifting and driving without a license give Tessa a thrill?
8. Tessas father wants to know the things on her list. He says, “I need to know about it, not because I want to stop you, but because I want to keep you safe.” (p. 80) Discuss how Tessa reacts to her father when he asks to see the list.
9. Discuss the conversation between Tessa and her father after she is caught shoplifting. Why does he think anger is taking her over?
10. How is Tessas list confusing to her father? Explain how Tessas list is self-centered. Her mum tells her, “You have to think about the people who love you.” (p. 170) At what point does Tessa begin to think about Cal and her father? Explain why Tessas mother speaks in past tense when she says, “we loved you.” Why is it unrealistic for Tessa to think that she can rekindle her parents relationship?
11. Why do you think sex is number one on Tessas list of things she wants to do before she dies? Tessa worries about being a “slag” if she has sex with someone that she doesnt know. Explain Zoeys reaction to Tessas thoughts.
12. Tessa says that walking up the stairs behind a boy she doesnt know reminds her of hospital corridors. What do the stairs and the corridors symbolize?
13. Discuss the moments in the novel that Tessa is most depressed. Who helps her deal with her depression?
14. Why does Zoey suspect that Tessa is in love with Adam? What does Zoey mean when she says, “I thought you understood the rules! Never let a bloke into your heart-its fatal”? (p. 88) Why is Adam different than Zoey? Discuss what Adam means when he says, “I cant give you what you want.” (p. 117) What does he ultimately give her? What does she offer him?
15. Tessa asks the home health care nurse if she believes in God. What is the significance of this inquiry? Tessa tells the nurse that she doesnt believe in heaven. Discuss the nurses reaction to Tessas confession. Why does the nurse think a support group might be helpful to Tessa? How does Tessas list take the place of a support group?
16. How does Tessas dad react when he finds out Zoey wants to terminate her pregnancy? Discuss how his opinion is related to Tessas terminal illness.
17. Sorrow, loneliness, anxiety, and guilt are emotions associated with grief. How does each of the characters in the novel deal with these emotions?