I picked up this book last summer and it's been in a "to read" pile ever since. I am the kind of reader who is generally reading four or five books at once, and for some reason this past school year, I mostly read non-fiction in my free time, so many of the books in the pile were ignored.
Anyway I was intrigued at first by the title, because I've been reading so many things about religion. I thought it might be an insightful or even funny look at the religious states in America; however, it actually turned out to be pretty brutal and exacting.
Jesus Land is a memoir about a Christian family that adopts two young black boys in a sort-of attempt to prove they are good Christians. The story centers around Julia and her brother David, who was adopted when he was three. They grow up as brother and sister, as well as best friends, but they have to work incredibly hard at it because of the inherent racism in their lives.
The writer tells the gritty truth. She admits to her own color awareness- to racing off the school bus so she and David don't have to walk into the school building together. To being jealous as a young child when David got all the attention because he looked like a "little Bill Cosby." Her stories of their growing up together- in the shadow of the church- are shocking. I kept having to remind myself that it is a true story. There were many times as I read that I had to stop and admire her strength as a writer and a person. The truths she tells are painful ones.
There are soft, bittersweet things she shares, like David's dream that their family will someday transform into a Brady Bunch family, and then the much harsher memories of the beatings her brothers received at her father's hands.
Eventually the two, David and Julia, are sent to a Christian reform school as a part of New Horizons ministries, and the story of what happens to them there is close to unbearable. It was a difficult book to read, but I also couldn't put it down. I read it in one day and it is still resonating with me- part of the measure of a good book. I highly recommend it.
As an addendum- the author has a website where you can see some of her brother's journal pages- there is one where he describes a metal class where his classmates tattooed him and chanted, "KKK." Also- Escuela Caribe, where the two attended Christian reform school, still exists and has a web site. http://nhym.org/ Mind boggling!