Jesus Land: A Memoir

Jesus Land: A Memoir

4.4 62
by Julia Scheeres

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Julia and her adopted brother, David, are sixteen-years-old. Julia is white. David is black. It is the mid-1980s and their family has just moved to rural Indiana, a landscape of cottonwood trees, trailer parks, and an all-encompassing racism. At home are a distant mother—more involved with her church’s missionaries than her own children—and a violent… See more details below


Julia and her adopted brother, David, are sixteen-years-old. Julia is white. David is black. It is the mid-1980s and their family has just moved to rural Indiana, a landscape of cottonwood trees, trailer parks, and an all-encompassing racism. At home are a distant mother—more involved with her church’s missionaries than her own children—and a violent father. In this riveting and heartrending memoir Julia Scheeres takes us from the Midwest to a place beyond imagining: surrounded by natural beauty, the Escuela Caribe—a religious reform school in the Dominican Republic—is characterized by a disciplinary regime that extracts repentance from its students by any means necessary. Julia and David strive to make it through these ordeals and their tale is relayed here with startling immediacy, extreme candor, and wry humor.

Editorial Reviews

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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