Scheeres was the bio child of a white family that adopted two black boys, one older than her, one three months younger. So if Mommy Dearest met Hell House, their love child would be her memoir.
She chronicles growing up in an uber-Christian family where hymns were blasted into bedrooms to wake them up, but at night her older foster brother snuck into her room and made her have sex. That kind of thing.
The details in the book are not salacious, rather sparse and that makes them all the more impactful. When Julia and her little brother David (whom she adores) get sent to an Evangelical reform school, her depictions of what’s happening are heartbreakingly hysterical. I found myself laughing out loud, closing my mouth again on a sob. She’s ruthless and without self-pity in describing the place, but she’s also very good at passing up the easy joke to get to the core of the matter.
For instance, when she writes about the kids being given a week off school to lay the foundation for a baseball diamond, the result is pure comedic gold as well as a deep insight into human nature. It’s hot, shirts are sticking, water is pouring over t-shirts, boys are stripping down…. And the staff realize too late they’ve got a lust pit accompanied by Christian rock music.
Even though she’s merciless about what it was like to be in her home and that school, Scheeres isn’t dissing Christianity. She doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about “true Christianity is this,” she just writes out what happened and moves on. Readers can figure it out for themselves pretty easily. Her acknowledgements leave out her mom and dad (whose names are never used in the book, either) but in her book group questions at the end, she refers to her two older sisters as “powerful examples of laudable Christians.” She’s not out to get Christianity, or even her parents, and her story is even stronger because she just tells it without saying “You know this means my parents were hypocrites, right?”
No easy punchlines, and the reading vibrates between easy and intense, but the underlying humor and love between brother and sister come through. So do the racist and Christianity-over-kindness mixed-up overtones.
This book was written before the country divided into Trump as What’s Wrong with American Christianity Today versus God’s Chosen Man for the Hour. But it really makes the points one might be considering along those lines.
What does Christianity look like when it’s about saving souls no matter how bad it hurts, when it’s about preserving a way of life that allows Othering, when it ignores what doesn’t fit into its prescribed boxes as unable to be happening? Scheeres has written her memoir about these questions, by never overtly stating them.