Book: Stupid Children
Author: Lenore Zion
Type of Book: Literary novel
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Children are tortured with nasal balloons and animal entrails.
Availability: Published by Emergency Press in 2013, you can get a copy here:
Comments: The cover of this book drew me in. A white little girl – white skin, white underwear, long blonde hair – is standing behind a rope in a ragged backyard in late fall, or early winter. The look on her face is unfathomable to me, but the confrontation is undeniable. She is standing there, in her socks and underwear, unprotected in the wind, literally holding on by a string, and staring at you, the reader. Her expression could be anything from veiled disgust to melancholy to vague interest in the camera as a break in the bleak boredom of the landscape.
This book, at turns neurotic and gross, touching and funny, is grounded by this cover. This book has a strange, over-the-top cult that engages in really nasty rituals. The heroine of the book is hilarious and neurotic. The plot-line gets loose at times and the wackiness of the book can occasionally make the reader forget that at its heart this is still a book about a little girl whose mother is dead, whose father is in a mental institution, who ends up in foster care in the home of cultists who marry her off to an old man in a scenario reminiscent of so many stories that came out of the FLDS sects. Zion handles all of this heaviness with a humor and open-minded acceptance of the bizarre, but the cover ensures you remember a smart little girl in a forsaken place is at the center of the story. Outside of House of Leaves, I can can’t recall a time when a book’s cover ensures you don’t miss some of the most important details of the book. The girl on the cover helps you remember that this is a very upsetting book, even as you find the prose quite amusing at times.
Quick synopsis: Jane’s mother is dead and her father had a breakdown. He attempted suicide and becomes a long-term resident in a mental hospital. Jane is sent to live in foster care and ends up living with a family indoctrinated into the fictional Second Day Believers, a strange cult that merges properties of Scientology (weird ideas about mental illness and its treatment), FLDS (marrying young girls off to older men powerful in the cult) and a very gross, borderline pagan attraction to animal entrails. Jane becomes close to her foster brother, Isaac, and their relationship takes a dark turn as Isaac becomes rather unhinged himself, a young proxy in Jane’s affection for her unbalanced father. Jane eventually becomes far more valuable to the cult than the cult is to her but her love of Isaac keeps her from leaving the madness until Isaac forces the issue in an act of numb but horrifying violence.
Let me get the hard criticism out of the way before I sing this book’s praises. The ending was rushed and, in a way, a bit contrived. It all happened too fast. The reader doesn’t get to see what happens and because it is so rushed, we miss out on some catharsis. The reader needs that catharsis because this book, as funny and sarcastic as it can be at times, also has some hard and upsetting content. We need to have that BAM! moment and it gets lost in the rush. Not entirely – you won’t be left feeling like doors were left open, but you also don’t get the satisfaction of hearing those doors slam shut.
With my main criticism out of the way, let’s dissect why this book is worth reading.