I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Published by Little, Brown and Company on April 16, 2013
Source: the publisher
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A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she's convinced will follow them wherever they go--her husband. The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can't imagine what the world holds outside their father's polygamous compound. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley's abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family. An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, Amity & Sorrow is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own.
Amaranth: an imaginary, undying flower
Amity: friendship; peaceful harmony
Sorrow: distress caused by loss, affliction, disappointment, etc.; grief, sadness, or regret
Amity and Sorrow are sisters who were born and raised on the compound of (their father) Zachariah’s polygamous, religious cult. Amity is twelve and Sorrow must be fifteen or sixteen (I don’t believe her actual age is ever given). They know nothing of the world outside the compound; they’ve never been taught to read or write; all they know is what they’ve been told by their father–who calls himself God–and the women in the compound. They have both been brainwashed into believing their father’s teachings, but Sorrow is especially entrenched in the compound’s way of life and religion, being the group’s Oracle and her father’s right hand.
When the story of Amity & Sorrow opens, the sisters’ world has already been destroyed. The compound has been raided by the police and a fire started by someone has given Amaranth (their mother) the cover she needs to flee the compound with her daughters. What started years ago as an idea of Utopia has turned into something that makes Amaranth question everything she believes in. One major incident (no spoilers!) has made Amaranth’s belief system and way of life come crashing down, and she knows that she must start over with her daughters in order to save them and give them the life–away from the compound–that they all deserve. Whether or not the three women can overcome what Zachariah’s cult has done to them–physically, emotionally, and psychologically–remains to be seen. When Amaranth wrecks their car on Bradley’s farmland, what seems at first like bad luck soon shows itself to be the very thing Amaranth and the girls might need in order to deprogram their minds and bodies.
Amity & Sorrow is written in the perspectives of Amaranth and Amity; the story moves back and forth between the present and the past, leaving the women’s stories to unfold slowly. Everything we know about Sorrow comes from the point of view of either Amaranth or Amity, which is the one thing about the book that I was slightly disappointed with. As her name foretells, Sorrow is having a very hard time being away from the compound and her father (who she also believes to be God), and I would have liked to know more about what was going through her mind. Amity is strongly bonded to her sister (sometimes literally) and as her name suggests early on, she tries to be the peacemaker between Amaranth and Sorrow, often unsuccessfully. Amity finds herself caught between the loyalties she feels to her mother and to Sorrow.
I didn’t enjoy reading Amity & Sorrow—enjoy is bad word choice in this case. It was really my morbid curiosity that made me want to read this book. I am not a fan of religious fanaticism and cults (understatement), and I was curious to read about the polygamous cult in Amity & Sorrow; I wanted to read about how it affected these two young girls. Needless to say, Amity & Sorrow solidified my feelings. What their father’s cult did to them (and to Amaranth, to a lesser extent) was just awful, and the ending made me both hopeful and very sad. I did, however, enjoy Peggy Riley’s writing and the way she put the story together. As many times as the story of Amaranth, Sorrow, and Amity made me cringe, at no point did I want to stop reading. I was entirely sucked in from the opening lines:
Two sisters sit, side by side, in the backseat of an old car. Amity and Sorrow. Their hands are hot and close together. A strip of white fabric loops between them, tying them together, wrist to wrist. Their mother, Amaranth, drives them. The car pushes forward, endlessly forward, but her eyes are always watching in the rearview mirror, scanning the road behind them for cars.
Unfortunately, I think that will be the story of Amaranth’s life: pushing endlessly forward in an attempt to move on, but forever looking back over her shoulder, always aware of–and to some degree afraid of–the past she’s leaving behind. Peggy Riley’s writing is captivating, and I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more of her work in the future. Amity & Sorrow is a relatively quick read (it’s hard to put down), but because of its subject matter it’s also very thought-provoking. This isn’t a book I’ll soon forget.