Author: Will Hill
Published: October 2, 2018
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
The things I’ve seen are burned into me, like scars that refuse to fade.
Before, she lived inside the fence. Before, she was never allowed to leave the property, never allowed to talk to Outsiders, never allowed to speak her mind. Because Father John controlled everything—and Father John liked rules. Disobeying Father John came with terrible consequences.
But there are lies behind Father John’s words. Outside, there are different truths.
Then came the fire.
Well, this book caused me to have an epiphany. But first, I’ll say that the only reason I gave this book 4 stars, is because I already read Minnow Bly and it’s so similar, that it took a little out of the reading. But I still loved this book so much! Now, back to my epiphany: I was raised in a cult. I don’t mean to make every review about myself, but part of the review process seems to be “how did this book affect me?” The main difference I saw between After the Fire and Minnow Bly was the realism factor. Minnow Bly was far more imagined, whereas After the Fire was based far more on real life events. It was easy to write off Minnow Bly as purely fiction. After the Fire was based on the Waco standoff, therefore it felt more based in reality.
Due to said realism, it was much harder to shrug off the similarities that kept popping up. Mostly, it was the manipulation. The tactics used by the Lord’s Legion were very similar to the tactics used by Bob Jones University. The idea of belonging and merit based on personal belief is the same. At BJU, your “spirituality” affected your status within the social and professional structure. If any perceived wrongdoing or disbelief was detected, it was dealt with swiftly and with no real winning on your part. I wasn’t allowed to go forward during any invitations at the end of services because my parents knew that if we confessed anything, it would stick to us throughout the rest of our BJU careers, however long that would be. It would also affect my parents professional standing. And that was the main similarity: our entire lives were so wrapped up in BJU, that if anything happened, if for whatever reason, my parents lost their jobs or we had to leave, our entire lives would be completely uprooted. Housing, education, childcare, jobs, insurance, social standing, church membership, everything. True, the Lord’s Legion used threat of violence to keep people in line, but they called into question one’s spiritual state, overall morality, and their place in the afterlife. Thankfully, BJU didn’t use violence, but they sure did love questioning spirituality and Christlikeness based on their own interpretations and opinions.
What made After the Fire unique and interesting, was the look into the coping and mental states of the survivors. The whole book was about Moonbeam and how she was “deprogrammed” and psychologically cleared after surviving the cult. Her experience during the fire was actually pretty predictable, which is another reason for the 4 stars. But the process she went through with Dr. Hernandez and Agent Carlyle was fascinating and in depth. And I loved the rapport that Moonbeam had with both men. I liked their father like roles. I also liked how Will Hill dealt with the elephant in the room in his Author’s Note: this book was not a condemnation of religion. I learned so long ago to separate Christ from Christians, so I never had to abandon my faith. He tried to focus on the psychological aspects and he went into good detail in the Author’s Note, enough that I felt very good about it. Overall, this was an interesting read and one that I would definitely give to older teens.