Jesus Land: A Memoir

Jesus Land: A Memoir

4.4 62
by Julia Scheeres

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The memoir the New York Times Book Review called "heart-stopping and enraging" and about which Entertainment Weekly raved "Jesus Land will break your heart and mend it again"

"Sinners go to: HELL. Rightchuss go to: HEAVEN. The end is neer: REPENT. This here is: JESUS LAND."

Julia Scheeres stumbles across these signs along the side of a


The memoir the New York Times Book Review called "heart-stopping and enraging" and about which Entertainment Weekly raved "Jesus Land will break your heart and mend it again"

"Sinners go to: HELL. Rightchuss go to: HEAVEN. The end is neer: REPENT. This here is: JESUS LAND."

Julia Scheeres stumbles across these signs along the side of a cornfield while out biking with her adopted brother David. It's the mid-1980s, they're sixteen years old, and have just moved to rural Indiana, a landscape of cottonwood trees and trailer parks--and a racism neither of them is prepared for. While Julia is white, her close relationship with David, who's black, makes them both outcasts. At home, a distant mother--more involved with her church's missionaries than with her own children--and a violent father only compound their problems. When the day comes that high-school hormones, racist brutality, and a deep-seated restlessness prove too much to bear, their parents' solution is reform school--in the Dominican Republic.

In this riveting memoir, first-time author Scheeres takes us with her from the Midwest to a place beyond imagining. Surrounded by natural beauty, the Escuela Caribe is nonetheless characterized by a disciplinary regime that demands its teens repent for their sins under boot-camp conditions. Julia and David's striving to make it through is told here with startling immediacy, extreme candor, and not an ounce of malice.

Editorial Reviews

"Sinners go to: HELL. Rightchuss go to: HEAVEN. The end is neer: REPENT. This here is: JESUS LAND." As a teenager, Julia Scheeres resided in a region of stark polarities. With her adopted black brothers, David and Jerome, she tried to survive in a rural Indiana community where messages of salvation and racism seemed to carry equal weight. When the misfit children seem to have lost the beat of heaven's drum, two of them were dispatched to Escuela Caribe, an unforgiving Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. Julia Scheeres' memoir of her childhood belongs on your shelves with the works of Mary Karr, Augusten Burroughs, and Dave Eggers.
Alison Smith
As the story gains momentum, it becomes clear that Scheeres is driven by two things: the fierce love she feels for her brother and the rising anger she experiences as she witnesses the injustices he endures. There is much praise, these days, for the detached, quietly elegant narrative. But there is little mention of the power a well-tended rage can bring to a good story. It is Scheeres's high emotion and her tight control of her narrative within that emotion that is most striking. Her anger serves her well: it is focused, justified and without a trace of self-pity.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Journalist Scheeres offers a frank and compelling portrait of growing up as a white girl with two adopted black brothers in 1970s rural Indiana, and of her later stay with one of them at a Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic. The book takes its title from a homemade sign that Scheeres and the brother closest to her in age and temperament, David, spot one day on a road in the Hoosier countryside, proclaiming, "This here is: JESUS LAND." And while religion is omnipresent both at their school and in the home of their devout parents, the two rarely find themselves the beneficiaries of anything resembling Christian love. One of the elements that make Scheeres's book so successful is her distanced, uncritical tone in relaying deeply personal and clearly painful events from her life. She powerfully renders episodes like her attempted rape at the hands of three boys, the harsh beatings administered to David by her father and the ceaseless racial taunting by schoolmates; her lack of perceivable malice or vindictiveness prevents readers from feeling coerced into sympathy. The same can be said for Scheeres's description of their Dominican school, where humiliation and physical punishment are meant to redeem the allegedly misguided pupils. Tinged with sadness yet pervaded by a sense of triumph, Scheeres's book is a crisply written and earnest examination of the meaning of family and Christian values, and announces the author as a writer to watch. Agent, Sam Stoloff. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Nola Theiss
This memoir of a sister and brother's close relationship growing up in a Calvinist family in rural Indiana in the mid ‘80s is not for the faint of heart. Julia is white and David is one of her two adopted black brothers. When the book begins, she and David were both 16; they were inseparable since they were three. Her parents were viewed as religious and kind when they adopted two unwanted children in addition to raising their own four children. In reality, their doctor father was distant and cold and enjoyed beating his black sons. Their mother showed none of her children affection and was miserable except when she was at church. Their older adopted brother molested Julia from the time she was very young. Eventually Julia sought out alcohol and promiscuity as an escape, while David kept believing that his family and everything else would turn out all right. After their father broke David's arm while punishing him, they decided to send him to Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic, and Julia soon followed. The trials they faced at the reform school were harrowing. The one constant in this story is the true bond David and Julia shared throughout. There are many graphic scenes of promiscuous teenage sex and other acts of rebellion as well as cruelty by the parents and "counselors" at the reform school, but the story is told with such honesty that it is a compelling read.
Library Journal
In her first book, journalist Scheeres tells what it was like growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family in rural Indiana with two adopted African American brothers. She deftly exposes the disparity between her parents' religious beliefs and their actions, showing that her cold, distant, and temperamental mother invested more interest and emotion in missionaries than in her children and that her father meted out severe punishments for the boys while only lightly punishing his daughter. Scheeres suffered estrangement and teasing by classmates for being the sister of the only two African American boys in the school and confesses with honesty and emotion her guilt and shame at abandoning her little brother in her search for acceptance. Despite the many trying situations in which she found herself, including being imprisoned on a Caribbean island at a fundamentalist Christian reform school, Scheeres's constant love for her younger brother and their childhood dream of moving to Florida pulled her through. This work will force readers to relive the angst of being a teenager at a new school and desperately trying to fit in. Highly recommended.-Mark Alan Williams, Library of Congress Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The road out of an intolerant small town leads straight to a faith-based reform school in journalist Scheeres's scarifying memoir. When she was 16, her fundamentalist Christian parents moved the author and her two adopted, African-American brothers to a Midwest farming community that they immediately discovered was a little patch of racist attitudes. Seventeen-year-old Jerome stole the family car and made his escape, but not for long. After his return, he repeatedly raped Scheeres, noting that he wasn't really her brother. Jerome was himself abused by their parents: Mother had enthusiasm only for God's works, not for children; Dad was a sadist who once broke the arm of son David with a two-by-four. When David tried to commit suicide, Mother's response was, "Why can't I just have one day of peace?" Pretty soon Scheeres was finding that a splash of Southern Comfort in the morning went a long way toward making bearable a day that began with the house-wide intercom system blaring Christian radio and typically ended with some motherly snideness (on a good day) or a fatherly beating (on a bad day). The only bright spot was the affection between the author and David, her best friend and angel. It helped the two endure after they were shipped off to reform school in the Dominican Republic. Run by members of their parents' faith, Escuela Caribe was a place of petty cruelty, but at least the tribulations of being a new kid in a close-knit school was better than the torments of life at home. Forget redemption: Think survival, and marvel at how Scheeres kept sadness and fear at bay while battling hormones and small-mindedness so small it's hard for the reader to detect anything in her mother orfather that might be considered a mind at all. A bristly summoning of unpretty events, conveyed with remarkable placidity.

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Counterpoint Press
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Meet the Author

JULIA SCHEERES has a B.A. in Spanish and an M.A. in journalism from the University of Southern California. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times and Wired, and has twice been a finalist for journalism awards presented by the USC Annenberg School for Communication. She is also the author of A Thousand Lives. Scheeres lives in San Francisco, California.

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Jesus Land 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
SVS More than 1 year ago
Jesusland was an extremely engrossing read from start to finish. The story was told with effortless thought and detail and put me through the gamut of emotions. We read this for our book club of 6 women and they ALL loved it. So far the best book we've read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book years ago and I've never been able to forget it. I couldn't put it down either and remember just being so angry at...humanity! I have recommended it to friends and will continue to do so.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the first book in a LONG time I couldn't stop reading. The author did a great job at putting me in the story. I'm still thinking about it now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good book! I would recommend it to my friends.
Gwen Friesen More than 1 year ago
I really liked this book. It was very realistic and well written!
123skidoo More than 1 year ago
Brutally, shockingly, depressingly, spellbindingly, frank. Definitely a can't-put-down-till-you're-done tale. Do not read if you can't bear to come face-to-face with your own prejudices, or if you think religion is the righteous path to enlightenment.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this is such a touching story. it is one of those books that stay with you forever.
SunshineNat More than 1 year ago
I don't have much else to say except wow. I read this book in one day on the beach in Hawaii during my family vacation. I was so obsessed with it I couldnt set it down for more than five minutes at a time. MUST READ!
ZeeBam More than 1 year ago
Absolutely amazing story. Picked up the book, and two days later I found myself at the end... Would definitely recommend to any, and will be reading again! :]
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I read it in a day. It is one book you can't put down.
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