This Week's Reads

Julia Scheeres and Octavia E. Butler.

Jesus Land

By Julia Scheeres (Counterpoint, $23) As if you needed more evidence that the world is an ugly, dangerous place, journalist Julia Scheeres' haunting and disturbing memoir tells the story of growing up in an upper-middle-class Indiana Calvinist household during the '80s, while also alcoholic, beaten, molested, and mistreated. Her doctor/hospital administrator father drives a Porsche, and her mother, a nurse, an Audi, but Scheeres' parents rule their home with miserliness. Christian radio is the main source of entertainment, and when more than two squares of toilet paper are used per "BM," there's hell to pay. Her parents' extreme thrift also extends to love. Although they adopted two young African-American boys, they raise them like unwanted intruders. Scheeres' father beats the older one, Jerome, who gets revenge by molesting and raping Julia and eventually running away; and her father consistently punishes David, whom Julia loves like a twin and best friend, in much harsher ways than he does his biological children. None of the Scheereses' birth children—Julia has three older biological siblings—are "spared the rod," but her adopted brothers, by far, get the worst of it, which only compounds the racism they face at their small-town high school. Pushed to rebellion, David and Julia both act out enough to get them into serious trouble, and they wind up in an incredibly cruel, American-run fundamentalist reform school in the Dominican Republic. Like Sean Wilsey's recent memoir of crazy parents and oppressive schooling, Oh the Glory of It All, Jesus Land is a fascinating study of how so-called discipline warps young minds. But where Wilsey weaves humor into his text, there's very little that's funny about the Scheereses' experience. Having gone from a difficult life to an insufferable one before they were even of legal age, however, a cementlike bond grows between the author and David. Even though Jesus Land is depressing and bleak, a strong theme of trust and honesty bleeds through it. Scheeres, who has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Wired, wrote the book as her memoir, but David's presence is indelible throughout. When she reveals in a sad coda how some of his notebooks helped shape Jesus Land, it makes their story more poignant and more important to share. LAURA CASSIDY Julia Scheeres will appear at Third Place Books, 7 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 20. Fledgling

By Octavia E. Butler (Seven Stories Press, $24.95) A 1995 MacArthur "genius" fellow, Seattle's Octavia E. Butler has long been a leading voice in science fiction, having also earned two Hugo Awards and one Nebula over the last 25 years. In her tradition of breathing life into young, black protagonists, Fledgling— her first novel since 1998's Parable of the Sower—introduces Shori, an amnesiac vampire who wakes among her destroyed community and embarks on the slow process of reconstructing both her mind and family. Set in the present day, her story is removed from romantic notions of vampires past, her primary similarity with their Gothic lifestyle being her unexplainable thirst for blood. Instinctually she's led to her first "symbiont," a human she'll feed from for life, who helps her look for clues online. (In an amusing passage, she checks off a laundry list of benign vampire "dangers" like garlic and crucifixes.) Through distant family members, Shori learns of her "Ina" heritage: a species co-evolved with humans whose latest evolution—the genetic alterations that make her skin black and allow her to venture into daylight—isn't appreciated by everyone, especially the old-school bloodsuckers. In order to survive while hunting for her family's murderers, Shori collects symbionts while dodging attacks on her caravan at each new location. The codependency deepens between the Ina and her symbionts, who become physically and psychologically addicted to Shori's bites. Butler's sparse prose is meted out at times as painstakingly as it must feel for Shori each time she's flooded with a new memory. The slow pace of the book works with her character-in-progress, but it builds to a climax you see coming midway through. It's the only disappointing thing about Fledgling, which otherwise offers a unique vision of the modern vampire, and a kick-ass heroine to boot. RACHEL SHIMP Octavia Butler will appear at Elliott Bay Book Co., 7:30 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 20; and at University Book Store, 7 p.m. Mon., Nov. 7.

 
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