Review: Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley

Posted May 4, 2013 by in Book Reviews / 25 Comments

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.

Review: Amity & Sorrow by Peggy RileyAmity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley
Published by Little, Brown and Company on April 16, 2013
Genres: Fiction
Format: eBook
Pages: 338
Source: the publisher

Goodreads | Amazon

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.

(from Goodreads)


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 & Sorrowenjoy 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.


  • sj

    Other Heather just finished reading this one, too!

    • HA! I’m interested to hear what she thought of it.

      • sj

        I think she was going to write about it this week or next week.

  • I really want to read this one!

    • I think you’ll “like” it. (I’m having a hard time finding a good word to describe the experience.)

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  • therelentlessreader

    I liked this one too 😉 It pisses you off and makes your jaw drop and zowie!

    • Yes! And just when I was feeling all hopeful…THE ENDING. Ugh. I’m still worried about Sorrow, and it’s just a book. :/

  • I’ve been thinking some more about why Riley doesn’t give Sorrow a voice, and I think it’s because otherwise the reader would never be able to handle that ending. I mean, it’s hard enough as it is, but if the reader had more empathy for Sorrow it would just be brutal. I think it would have seriously changed my feelings towards Amaranth as well, which are already very mixed.

    • I agree. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, too, and came up with pretty much the same conclusion. Even though my curiosity demands getting into Sorrow’s mind, I think I would have been much more disturbed by it.

  • I have heard a lot about this book- mostly good. I really want to read this one-thanks!

    • I know this is cliché, but it really is like watching a train wreck (a relatively mild one, but still). It’s written so well, too.

  • I REALLY want to read this book because I am fascinated by cults and polygamy and that kind of stuff. I must have missed the NetGalley boat on this one, though, so I’ll have to try to get a copy from the library at some point. I’m glad you “enjoyed” the book even though it was hard to read and a book you didn’t necessarily “enjoy” in general.

    • Yeah, like I said, it’s hard to find a single word to describe the experience. I enjoyed the writing very much, I enjoyed reading it in general. I didn’t “enjoy” the subject matter or parts of the story, but I liked the book overall. You know what I mean. Hahaha!

  • I too have a morbid fascination with polygamous cults/sects. Of course, I am disgusted by the whole practice as well. This sounds like a must read so I’ll be putting it on my wishlist. Great review!

    • Thanks! I’m sure you’d like this one.

  • I would really like to read this one!

  • I liked this one too, although I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. However, I’m still thinking about it which must be a sign of a good book…

  • I am desperate to read this book. (the themes have always fascinated me and I am keen to get the view point of the western world on the themes. In Africa, polygamy is no big news. A lot of men are polygamous and though Christianity dictates the one man one wife precept, many a man have a woman or two hidden somewhere) I know I might get a copy from the Book Trust near my office where second had books sell for cheap but the only snag is that there are just so many of them it might take me days to get it and I don’t have that luxury of time. But I shall try.

    A wonderful review, Heather 🙂

    • Thank you, Celeste.

      I just read another good book, part of whose theme is polygamy. The book takes place in the US, Haiti, and Zaire. Another one I think you’d like if you can get it. I’ll be reviewing it soon, but the title is The Roving Tree and it’s written by Elsie Augustave.

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