This one really spoke to me. If you enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy, Educated, or Rising Out of Hatred, then you will devour this book.
Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope by Megan Phelps-Roper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This memoir gave me the shivers and spoke to my heart and soul in ways that will forever cement it in a place of honor on my reading list. Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the most notorious and hated religious sect in the nation - Westboro Baptist Church. Known for picketing soldiers' funerals and outrageous signs spouting homophobic and anti-Semitic slogans, church members also rejoiced at the AIDS epidemic, celebrity deaths, natural disasters, and all other manner of tragedy as proof that the rest of the country and world is doomed for a fate of Hell-fire and damnation simply for not being a Westboro believer. Megan left the church at the age of 27 in 2012, and was forced to sever ties with her family and the only life she ever knew. A seed of doubt grew slowly inside her until she couldn't rationalize the church's beliefs and intolerance any more. She grew to be incredibly brave, intelligent, and independent in thought. She's also remorseful for the ways in which her church's hatred has altered people's lives and hurt them in immeasurable ways. One of the most surprising things I learned about her grandfather and Westboro founder, Fred Phelps, was that before he started his crusade against gays, he was a highly respected and successful civil rights leader. In addition, the entire Phelps family is highly intelligent and many of them are lawyers. This part of the family history was fascinating to me. How can these intelligent people so blindly follow a religion so steeped in hatred? There's a certain type of child, very often female, who grows up to believe that she just has to be good and follow the rules. Even when logic defies this need, the desire to be good and tow the line trumps everything. When you combine that personality and the indoctrination of following orders and religious belief without question, you find a dangerous brew of power struggle and judgment. Megan does not look back with reciprocal hatred for the family and community that now shuns her. While her parents may not have been perfect, the family's love for one another was soft and authentic. She reveres those memories as they were comforting, special, and made her who she is. The other special part of this book is how the kindness of others is a part of what eventually lit the tiniest flames of doubt within Megan's mind. Megan was big into social media and arguing with non-Westboro people around the world. It was people who respectfully disagreed with her but still treated her with love online who made her question her church's vision. After leaving, she quickly discovers there are good people everywhere, and their religion doesn't define whether or not they deserve kindness and respect. People of all religions, or none at all, can and do have goodness and light. This theme reminded me of another big emotional book, Rising Out of Hatred by Saslow, where a white nationalist learns the error of his upbringing through the kindness of a Jewish college student and South American immigrant. The feel of Unfollow is also prevalent in Hillbilly Elegy and Educated. The quote Phelps-Roper used at the beginning is really the best way to end this review as it covers all of this book's vibe so perfectly. "Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope." F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.
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