Proud book geek and YA enthusiast. Can also find me at my other book blog home www.tyngasreviews.com
I admit, I went into this with preconceived notions of what this organization stood for - and it all seemed so sinister. For those not familiar with Westboro Baptist Church - they are an 'organization' that calls themselves an Independent Baptist church in order to receive the tax benefits. They are often seen picketing funerals of fallen soldiers or scenes of great tragedy such as the 9/11 site with signs reading such hateful things I can't even repeat them. Their basic message is that God hates the world, and rejoices in the world's suffering. Everyone except for them, of course.
As I'm sure it would be for anyone who reads it, this book was an emotional experience for me. This is Lauren Drain's story - she grew up in Florida until her early teens. Though her early years were relatively normal, there was always an unhealthy dynamic between she and her father - mostly brought on by her father's impossibly high standards and self-centered leanings.
When her father decides to make a film called "Hatemongers" to expose the Westboro Baptist Church and their corrupt ways - he actually finds himself drawn to the group. Returning to their family home in Florida, he restricts Lauren from any contact with boys. He refuses to let her see her friends. He pulls her out of public school. He completely isolates her from the outside world, and instead her only compass is his approval. To gain his approval is the only way to gain freedoms, and at the same time, she wants to please her father. She wants to make him proud, just like the rest of us.
This isolated and controlled situation eventually deteriorates to one of mental, emotional, and physical abuse. So much so, that he uproots his entire family and moves them to Topeka, Kansas so that they can join the church and so that Lauren can be 'saved' from her evil ways.
I never understood why someone would want to partake in the actions this 'church' takes, and I was really excited to get a chance to better understand the inner workings and dynamics that go into a church that behaves like this.
My main questions were do they really believe what they are spouting or do they just want attention? Are the members sincere or are they just control freaks? And over and over again in my head the question would pop up: Why?
Why hurt so many people? Why brazenly mock those in pain?
Needless to say, Banished gave me a window into the Westboro Baptsist Church that while hard to look through, did give a much clearer picture of the entire community. Perhaps the scariest part was realizing just how smart those in power are. They know exactly how to fight the media's image of a cult - they dress normal, speak normal, go to the mall - and yet under it all, the controlling and intimidating nature of a cult mentality still lies.
Though they are within society, they are withheld because they believe they are 'above' it all. Their entire lives revolve around the church - and their social standings are absolutely crucial. To be in Shirley's bad graces is to be, as Lauren found out, banished. With nowhere else to go, and no one in your family that will claim you.
By the end, my heart was absolutely broken for Lauren. She went through things that no daughter deserves, all in the name of saving her from hell. She lived in fear and her actions reflected it. And now she has to live forever with what she has done and those she has hurt - while watching her family condemn her to hell the whole time. Banished will give you hope, but it will also give you an insight into what we are all capable of, given the right circumstances.