fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science

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Overview

Lucia Ewing had what looked like an all-American childhood. She lived with her mother, father, sister, and brother in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, where they enjoyed private schools, sleep-away camps, a country club membership, and skiing vacations. Surrounded by a tight-knit extended family, and doted upon by her parents, Lucia had no doubt she was loved and cared for. But when it came to accidents and illnesses, Lucia’s parents didn't take their kids to the doctor's ...

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Overview

Lucia Ewing had what looked like an all-American childhood. She lived with her mother, father, sister, and brother in an affluent suburb of Minneapolis, where they enjoyed private schools, sleep-away camps, a country club membership, and skiing vacations. Surrounded by a tight-knit extended family, and doted upon by her parents, Lucia had no doubt she was loved and cared for. But when it came to accidents and illnesses, Lucia’s parents didn't take their kids to the doctor's office—they prayed, and called a Christian Science practitioner. 
 
fathermothergod is Lucia Greenhouse's story about growing up in Christian Science, in a house where you could not be sick, because you were perfect; where no medicine, even aspirin, was allowed. As a teenager, her visit to an ophthalmologist created a family crisis. She was a sophomore in college before she had her first annual physical. And in December 1985, when Lucia and her siblings, by then young adults, discovered that their mother was sick, they came face-to-face with the reality that they had few—if any—options to save her. Powerless as they watched their mother’s agonizing suffering, Lucia and her siblings struggled with their own grief, anger, and confusion, facing scrutiny from the doctors to whom their parents finally allowed them to turn, and stinging rebuke from relatives who didn’t share their parents’ religious values. 
 
In this haunting, beautifully written book, Lucia pulls back the curtain on the Christian Science faith and chronicles its complicated legacy for her family.  At once an essentially American coming-of-age story and a glimpse into the practices of a religion few really understand, fathermothergod is an unflinching exploration of personal loss and the boundaries of family and faith.  
 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
One afternoon just before she turns eight, Greenhouse returns home from school to find her older sister, Olivia, curled up asleep on the couch, covered with little red spots. Lucia anxiously asks her mother if Olivia has the chicken pox. Her mother stiffly replies that Olivia is not sick, because Olivia is God's perfect child. In this one moment, her family's deeply seated beliefs in Christian Science become crystal clear to little Lucia, and she wrestles mightily with these teachings in the pages of this often gripping, sometimes melodramatic memoir. Greenhouse's struggles come to a head when her mother falls gravely ill with cancer; in the early stages of her illness, Greenhouse's parents seek the aid of Christian Science healers. As her mother's health deteriorates rapidly, she is moved to a hospital for treatment, but this move is too little, too late. Greenhouse very weakly tries to resolve the tension between her own beliefs and the Christian Science teachings that she never embraced, and she never works out the anger and resentment she has toward her father for what she believes are his misguided and unloving actions toward her mother. (Aug.)
Library Journal
In her memoir, Greenhouse writes of being the child of parents who practiced Christian Science and her eventual falling away—she herself was never a member of the church. In recounting growing up in this household, she writes in the first-person present, so readers feel her confusion over the church doctrine that considers sickness and even death as "error." Her father's faith was strong enough that he becomes a Christian Science practitioner who treated other Christian Scientists through prayer. Greenhouse and her brother, not sharing the faith (an older sister did) rebelled in various ways. Despite their disagreements with their parents, the siblings agreed not to tell their extended family when their mother fell seriously ill. Greenhouse's mother finally agreed to be taken to a hospital, where she rallied for a short while before dying. Her death created rifts in the family, some that never fully healed. VERDICT Through this memoir, readers will see how even those closest to us can remain a mystery. Greenhouse's book is unlikely to be read by many practicing Christian Scientists. Those curious about the faith and those interested in stories of life's challenges, though, may find this a gratifying read. [See Prepub Alert, 2/7/11.]—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids
Kirkus Reviews

In this powerfully affecting memoir, ex–Christian Scientist Greenhouse tells the story of how her parents' fervent adherence to their religion tore the family irrevocably apart.

From the outside, the author's comfortable Minnesota childhood seemed perfect. She and her two siblings grew up going to the best schools surrounded by a host of loving relatives. Unlike the other members of their extended family, however, the Ewingclan was different. They were Christian Scientists who did not believe in taking medicines of any kind, including aspirin. From an early age, the author was all too aware "of the difference between the way my family does things and the way other people do [them]," and of the irony that her mother was a doctor's daughter. Over time, her parents' beliefs deepened. Soon after the author's 13th birthday, the family moved to London so her father could become a Christian Science practitioner (or faith healer) and her mother a Christian Science nurse. Four years later, they returned to New Jersey where they found a home near a Christian Science care facility. Greenhouse became more openly rebellious, expressing her defiance by buying a pair of much-needed eyeglasses. When her mother became sick with a mysterious illness—a "little problem" later identified as cancer—underlying family tensions came to an explosive head. Both parents vehemently denied her mother's rapidly deteriorating condition. For nine horrific months, the author stood helplessly by as her mother fought her disease armed only with the belief that all illness was error. With its meditations on the many whys of this event, the narrative reads like a personal exorcism, but Greenhouse's skill in rendering family relationships under the intersecting stresses of illness and conflicting beliefs make the book worthwhile—but difficult—reading.

Wrenchingly courageous.

From the Publisher
fathermothergod is a heart-wrenching coming of age memoir about the implosion of a family when Christian Science dogma encounters a mother's grave illness. It's impossible to read this and not put yourself in the author's shoes—this will take your breath away.”
—Lee Woodruff, author of Perfectly Imperfect and In an Instant

A riveting and heart-rending memoir, fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science exposes the monstrous feats of neglect fostered by this strange American manifestation of religious fanaticism. Tracing her mother’s decline and its lacerating consequences, Lucia Greenhouse knows the truth about Christian Science, and she tells it with passionate, righteous indignation.
Caroline Fraser, author of God’s Perfect Child:  Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church

"Lucia Greenhouse's book is a heart-breaking reminder of how nefarious religious zealotry can be. Her story drew me in and blew me away. This is an important addition to the genre of memoirs by children who escaped religious hucksterism and are now bravely exposing it."
—Julia Scheeres, author of Jesus Land

“[A] powerfully affecting memoir . . . Greenhouse’s skill in rendering family relationships under the intersecting stresses of illness and conflicting beliefs make the book worthwhile . . . reading. Wrenchingly courageous.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“Through this memoir, readers will see how even those closest to us can remain a mystery.”
—Library Journal

“A touching book that puts a human face on Christian Science.”
Booklist

“Rather than a journey out of a faith, this is the story of one woman’s questioning and anguish over her parents’ choices…. Teens wondering about their own faith, their parents’ expectations, and how to marry the two will find that this book resonates with them. It will also appeal to anyone wanting to know what it’s like to grow up in Christian Science…Suggest that readers have tissues close at hand.”
School Library Journal

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307720924
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/9/2011
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 9.28 (w) x 6.62 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

LUCIA GREENHOUSE, a graduate of the Emma Willard School and Brown University, lives with her husband and four children in Westchester County, New York. This is her first book.

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Reading Group Guide

Please consider the below discussion questions to enhance your reading of fathermothergod by Lucia Greenhouse.

Readers' Guide for fathermothergod

1. How successful would you say the author was in conveying the doctrine of the Christian Science Church, (starting from the point of view of a child)?
 
2. As a young girl Lucia thinks about the dichotomy between Christian Science and the real world as being like the Venn diagrams in math class, wondering if the two circles overlap at all.  Does this metaphor apply to your own religion or that of others?,Does it apply to other conflicting aspects of a child’s life?
 
3. What were Lucia’s parents’ motivations in embracing Christian Science? Lucia’s grandfather and uncle were prominent physicians.  What are possible explainations for her mother’s rejection of medicine?
 
4. Is there a time in your own life when you’ve had to make an extremely difficult choice between adhering to your own beliefs and respecting those of close friends or family members? How have you dealt with that conflict?
 
5. The Christian Science church has often been viewedas a more or less mainstream--if small-- Protestant religion. What was your understanding of the church, and how has that understanding changed?
 
6. Freedom of religion is a fundamental principal of American democracy.  Are there limits to the free exercise of religion? Should there be?
 
7. Lucia and her siblings had been raised in the Church, and indoctrinated from a young age.  Even though they never fully embraced Christian Science, its grip on them remained tight, even paralyzing. But the same cannot be said about some  of Lucia’s other family members who remained silent after they learned about Joanne’s illness.  What kept them from acting?  Filial loyalty?  Religious tolerance? Fear?
 
8. What would you have done, had you been in Lucia’s shoes? 
 
9. Where should the line between personal choice and legal interest be drawn  (like assisted suicide) ?
 
10.At one point Lucia says that her grandmother may be the only person capable of forgiving her father, and only because her own faith dictates it.  What role has forgiveness played in Lucia’s life and that of her family since the events of 1986?
 
11. Do you think Lucia loves her parents?
 
12.What is the lowest point in the story?           
 
13. Regardless of one’s feelings about Mary Baker Eddy’s theology, she was an early feminist, who founded a religion and started The Christian Science Monitor..  What will her legacy be? 
 
14. What do you think attracts people to Christian Science?
 
15. What is the difference between a religion and a cult?
 
16. Lucia’s sister, Olivia, said to Lucia near the end of the book, “I just want you to know, you, Sherman and I: we had three very different sets of parents.  Your story is not mine.”  Is Olivia’s comment a universal truth?
 
17. Sibling dynamics around family secrets are always complicated.  How is what happened in fathermothergod similar or dissimilar to the way families handle other secrets, such as alcoholism and other addictions? 
 
18. Which character in fathermothergod do you most identify with and why?
 
For more information visit, LuciaGreenhouse.com, facebook.com/LuciaGreenhouse and twitter.com/LuciaGreenhouse.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 36 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(22)

4 Star

(6)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2011

    A heart wrenching conflict, beautifully and intelligently told

    Mesmerizing This magnificent memoir conveys the shattering conflict felt by the author and her sibling(s) as they struggled to come to grips with the beliefs with which they were raised and the world they grew to experience for themselves. Though this experience of developing personal beliefs that differ from those of our parents is not unique, the stakes for that difference are rarely so high. Christian Science is not a cult; it is a religion practiced by some in surprisingly visible (leadership) roles in our society - yet it is devoid of nuance, tolerance or uncertainty for that which we cannot concretely know. It's narrow-ness is alarming and even frightening. I am grateful to Lucia Greenhouse for sharing her profoundly painful story with intimacy, immediacy and intelligence, and for shedding light on this unforgiving religion that quietly thrives in our midst.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2011

    Highly Recommended

    I could not put this book down. Not only does it have beautiful written memories but also heart wrenching detail of a family in turmoil. This is a story of heartache and triumph as the author comes out at the other end stronger!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2011

    Intriguing, Interesting. The pages just kept turning.

    Similar to hundreds of others, I read fathermothergod in one sitting. I was planning on reading just the first chapter on a red eye from California, but decided I COULD NOT put it down. Greenhouse's storytelling techniques truly brought the reader into the story. Where other reviews claim the beginning of the novel to be just a bit slow, I found it to be a perfect introduction, allowing the reader to draw personal ties with Greenhouse. The pace picked up as her struggle ensued, and was eventually a suspenseful novel, creating a knot in my stomach at the turn of each page. Her ability to show the horrors of Christian Science, without making it look like a cult proves she was born a writer. 5 Stars..A MUST READ

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2011

    Could not put it down!

    May seem like an alarming Headline, but I honestly called in sick one day to stay home and finish this book! First, i knew NOTHING about Christian Scientists, and was stunned that they had such rigid beliefs...Second, I was moved by the struggle the writer suffered in terms of reconciling her family's beliefs and health issues without being able to turn to anyone outside her family. Finally, i was touched by the honesty of her voice. Ms Greenhouse readily admits this is her story, and that her siblings and others have different perspectives of the same events. But it was clear that it was a story that she had to tell for herself, her family, and wanted to share it with as wide an audience as possible. I for one, will never forget the story! It is not an easy one. I do not recommend this for a beach vacation, but it was moving and educational and well written. Thanks!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2011

    Makes you laugh, makes you cry, makes you THINK

    I LOVED this book. I couldn't put it down, which wasn't too difficult logistically because it's a page-turner and Lucia Greenhouse's prose is so easy to read. I thought she broke down the sections perfectly. In Part One, each story from her childhood was a further progression in the way she thought about and questioned Christian Science. Part Two was where I really couldn't put it down. There it's the questioning of Father-knows-best that got to me, as I think one's disillusionment with the wisdom of parents is one of the hardest parts of growing up. That the stakes were so high, because Lucia didn't agree with her father's, and her mother's, choice to refrain from modern medicine when her mother was so ill, makes this disillusionment all the more powerful. And Part Three, her epilogue, brought the reader out of the thriller-like Part Two into a thoughtful reflection that also ties up loose ends. While reading as fast as I could so that I could find out what happened next, I had to pause and marvel at the events as they unfolded, and I wondered time and again what I would have done had I been in Lucia's position. There are so many other elements to unpack and discuss and think about, and I think it would be perfect for a Book Club or a religion & philosophy class.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2011

    Loved it!

    I was riveted to this book! The internal turmoil that this family had to endure during such a trying time for any family was heart wrenching. Through Greenhouse's writing, one really gets a sense of the family dynamics and emotional struggles that transpired for her. Although her situation is unique to her, her descriptions allow her reader to relate to her inner turmoil. I thought the book was well written and heartfelt A page turner and a great choice for book clubs.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2011

    Great Read

    I loved the book. It is extremely well written. It is filled with great descriptions of the people around and how difficult it was to to watch the consequences of her parents' beliefs. It is very clear how much she loved her mother, her family and her extended family.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating look into Christian Science

    I didn't know much about Christian Science when I started this book except for the fact that they don't believe in going to doctors that the Lord will heal them however, I did not realize it is the symptoms of an illness or sickness itself that they don't believe in. I also don't understand when they say things like have you tried science when referring to Lucia who wants to get her eyes checked, isn't medicine science? So, I do not understand the name Christian Science when they don't use Science like going to the doctor. This book was a rare and fascinating look into a religion that I had little previous knowledge of and Lucia's narrative on her family and upbringing alternately makes your heartbreak, makes you angry and makes you shake your head in disbelief that anyone could believe some of the things after going through what they went through in the latter part of the book. I felt so bad for Lucia and her siblings but also even through it all, her parents. What was amazing is how her parent's belief in this religion impacted the extended family too and how her parents virtually cut themselves off from any non-believer so no one could see what was really happening. Also Lucia confused feelings of wanting to get help for her mother and wanting to protect her parents must have been so hard I don't know how she stayed sane through it all. This was a great read and was very hard to put down, if you like memoirs about different religions or dysfunctional families I highly recommend this book it is a fascinating read. 4 Stars Full Disclosure: I received this book from netgalley

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 4, 2011

    Beautifully written -Very thought provoking - would be a great book club book!!

    This story is so well written and drew me into the heart of the author's family right from the beginning. I truly could not put it down and read it in a day. To the author - thank you for sharing your life with all of us and for enlightening us in the deeply personal struggles within a Christian Scientist family.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 22, 2011

    A Question of Faith or Abuse by Another Name?

    Anthony Lewis has described the First Amendment as "freedom for the thought that we hate." In the U.S., freedom of religion has been vigilantly defended, as well it should be. Many of the disturbing incidents in this book could be equally attributed to causes or behavior unrelated to religious belief. For me the horror of this story lies in the denial of choice in matters of personal faith. Despite Ms. Greenhouse's professed skepticism toward Christian Science (even as a child), she was so clearly abused that even today she fears that her book may result in physical retribution upon those she loves. When this tyranny of belief is imposed on children, particularly in situations where the consequences may mean death, it's extremely difficult to honor the "free exercise" of religion by doing nothing. Still, I had a hard time deciding how much of the abuse was directly attributable to religious belief and how much was just that of a very disturbed man exercising control over his wife and children.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 18, 2011

    A Riveting Read

    I found this book absolutely riveting and, like many others, I could not put it down until I finished it. I cannot improve on the August 10th review by "Anonymous," with which I completely agree. I taught medical ethics for decades, and I wish this memoir had been available for my students to explore the application of moral principles to real life. In a graceful narrative, Greenhouse lays bare her painful struggle with her parents' unyielding embrace of the methods of Christian Science in spite of their children's and siblings' growing confusion, doubt, and anger about decisions they will not even discuss with them. I was left to ponder whether the cold, even cruel rigidity displayed by Greenhouse's Practitioner father was owing to Christian Science itself or to his increasingly domineering personality. I suspect it was in fact an unhealthy symbiosis between the two. Observing the conflicts that arose within this family because of their unwillingness to talk about illness and death made me realize all the more how important it is for families to talk about these very things.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2011

    I Could Not Put This Book Down!

    What a heart-felt, well written account of how much one wants to believe their parents, to love their parents, and to respect their parents. The honest recounting of how Lucia struggled with those concepts as she grew and matured, and the conflicts she struggled with within herself regarding those concepts, showed how courageous she was to put her story into writing. I commend her with both thumbs up!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2011

    A Shocking Story, Told Beautifully.

    When I began this book, I knew nothing about Christian Scientists. As the story went on, I became more and more appalled with the outcome and couldn't believe that anyone had to suffer through it. However terrible the story, it is told with exceptional grace. The author uses an unflinching narration to show us exactly what she was thinking, but at the same time does not ask for pity. She wants everyone to see what she went through and how she changed because of it. It is a wonderful novel, and I would recommend it to anyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2011

    Riveting! Engrossing! Highly recommended.

    Raised by devout Christian Scientists, Ms. Greenhouse shares a compelling, revealing and deeply personal account of her struggle to reconcile personal tragedy and religious doctrine. Through her experiences as a child and later, as an adult, she raises timeless issues concerning belief, religion, loyalty, family and love. I was completely engrossed and moved by her honest story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 26, 2011

    Forthright, Forceful, For the Ages

    It is clear Lucia Ewing suffered greatly during the times she chronicles in this memoir, yet she has done the impossible when writing about them. She is clear-eyed, unsentimental and fair.

    This is a book for anyone with any questions about religion, death, family relationships or survival and for everyone who wants to read an honest author with something important to say.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 24, 2011

    A Perfect Book Club Selection

    Ms. Greenhouse is a gifted wordsmith, and her skillful use of the telling detail drives this harrowing narrative of a famiy undone by a religion few of us know. Reflective, honest and brave, her memoir is a moving testament to the power of healing through writing. It is also a page turner; I read it in one sitting. A perfect book club selection. Don't miss it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 23, 2011

    Amateurish twaddle

    Lemme get this straight: The author went to a Christian Science Sunday School when she was a kid, then, in junior high or something, decided it was a load of crap, then refused to have anything more to do with it. I'm sorry, but how does this differ from the experience of eleventy zillion other teenagers out there who've rebelled against the religion of their upbringing? The title, of course, hints at some rugged deprogramming regimen, maybe harrowing escape from the smothering clutches of some creepy cult. But you won't find anything like that between the covers of this book. Nope. Turns out, the author decided to stop going to Sunday School when she was 15. That was her "journey out of Christian Science"? LOL! And someone gave her a book contract to write about THAT?! ROTFLMAO! Whatever this girl's "journey," it wasn't a journey out of Christian Science. Evidently, it wasn't a journey out of whining, either.

    1 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 17, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Although fascinating in regards to a religion/creed/belief other

    Although fascinating in regards to a religion/creed/belief other than my own, I felt simply tired at all of the family drama that occured over the years. I simply wanted to scream, "Get on with your life" - and maybe that will happen. It did feel good to close the cover and I felt so happy with my own dysfunctional life.

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  • Posted May 5, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    As an atheist, I don't have a liking to religion very much. I ca

    As an atheist, I don't have a liking to religion very much. I can see why so many people flock to it, but it has no place in my life. I was raised Roman Catholic, and tried out Christianity for a brief time, but eventually I accepted my atheism. I have read some reviews of this book where the readers critique that this memoir isn't so much a journey out of Christian Science, and I have to disagree with them. Everyone who is raised in any religion is indoctrinated without his/her approval. As a child, you have no choice whether you want to go to church or to a religious school. Lucia Greenhouse had no say in the matter. Even more, she was punished for not strictly adhering to the teachings of Christian Science. If that isn't a journey out of a religion, then I don't know what is.

    The story is unbelievable. I can't imagine being in Lucia's place. I don't know how she dealt with it, honestly. If I were her I would have pulled out all my hair and would have been having a panic attack at least once per day. Her arguments with her father were infuriating. The lies that were told by numerous people were equally as heart breaking. It was extremely saddening to see so many people blame her for her mother's dwindling health. But no one was going to be able to help her mother unless her mother wanted it herself. I strongly believe in that. Most people always want someone to blame; they want a scapegoat, a person punishable for the crime. I felt that Lucia filled that role for some people during the horrible time that her mother finally received professional treatment.

    This is an excellent memoir, but sometimes I felt detached from the writing. It might be because sometimes I felt that the writing was a little dry and could have used some more emotion, but overall the story was so compelling that I could not stop reading, especially toward the later pages. I highly recommend this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    Fascinating.

    I hope the author does a follow up book. The memoir was very informative, but I want more info. For example, why did the drug abuse in two of the sibling become a problem? Has the author ask professional if this behavior is typical of parents of this sect? Why didn't the author study Biblical teaching to grow beyond this abusive father? I felt this was a book worth reading and as you can see it will make you question it and continue to think about it. A+++ job.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 36 Customer Reviews

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