115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Literacy and Narratives of Violence in The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

Taylor D. McCabe, University of California, Irvine

This paper explores the relationship between literacy and the narrativization of violence in The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly as a means of managing the aftermath of trauma. The novel emphasizes the significance of narrative control over personal histories of trauma; I wish to explore this emphasis as it relates to the generic function of YA literature and its concern with the importance of the interior lives of girls. 

Proposal: 

Stephanie Oakes' 2015 The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly finds seventeen-year-old titular Minnow Bly in juvenile detention following her violent escape from the religious cult that led to the isolated loss of an innocent childhood, the prohibition of her learning to read, and the loss of her hands--cut off by her own father following her refusal to marry the cult's polygamous leader. Imprisoned and cut off from a family that despises her for her betrayal of the Kevinian cult, Minnow has moved from one prison to another, and though the differences between the two are jarring, there is a crucial change that makes her incarceration tolerable: in juvie, she learns to read. Minnow's literacy parallels her narrative, slowly revealed to an agent in charge of investigating the secrets of the cult's collapse, of which Minnow alone is a complete witness. 

 

This paper explores the relationship between literacy and the narrativization of violence as a means of managing the aftermath of trauma. Minnow alternates between slow revelation and frequent obscuring of the secrets of her past, even in the face of a deal that means that telling the history of the cult's demise could reduce her sentence. The novel emphasizes the psychic significance of narrative control over personal histories, particularly traumatic ones; I wish to explore this emphasis as it relates to the generic functions of young adult literature and its concern with assigning importance to the interior lives of adolescent girls. This control emerges, in the novel, not only in the ability to withhold information, but to obscure the importance of certain events through the placement (or displacement) in the chronology of the novel. Minnow uses accounts of visible acts of violence--the amputation of her hands, long-past deaths of cult members, the assault that lands her in prison--to make her final secret about the night the Kevinian compound burned seem nearly anticlimactic. Minnow uses narrative ability not only to manage her own affective response to her past but also as an attempt to exonerate herself, to alter her future. Understanding narrative allows Minnow to minimize the violent act through its continual deferral by the telling of other, more shocking, acts of cruelty. 

 

Minnow Bly's heightened stakes paired with its contemporary setting offers a powerful suggestion as to Joe young adult literature (in a way that is perhaps unlike any other form of media) offers agency as linked to narrative legibility for adolescent girls in surviving the bad affects that accompany being young, female, and in the world.