Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Keeper: The Black Cloister by Melanie Dobson

When my daughter left for college, seven years ago, I had one very real fear: that she would encounter a religious cult. After all, she was going to a secular college where they had a free speech alley. Anyone and everyone could stand in free speech alley to shout their message. And daughter enjoyed her own free speech and message: she walked the campus telling others about Christ, was involved in outreach for the BCM and her church, reached out to the homeless at odd hours and went on mission trips. In my mind, I could see some handsome, exuberant 'christian' talk her into joining him to spread the good news. And then...and then...

My fear was brought back to me as I read The Black Cloister by Melanie Dobson. Her characters are likable and the story reads true. I was right in the middle of the evil and believing every word of it. What a story! I've read other novels about religious cults, but never one as good as The Black Cloister.

Dobson's protagonist, Elise Friedman, needs to know her mother's story, and what was behind her mother's death. She risks her own life for answers. Dobson does an excellent job of showing how young people are recruited into cults and brainwashed. A frightening process. Authentic. She also paints a vivid picture of evil.

The Black Cloister grabbed me and wouldn't let me go until I reached the very last page. A week later, Elise Friedman's story is still with me. I think about her, shiver at the horror she faced. Every now and then I find myself wanting to breathe a prayer for her . . .

Thankfully, my daughter was sitting across the room while I read The Black Cloister. If she hadn't been in my sight, I would have called her every few hours to make sure she wasn't talking to strangers.

Aside from getting lost in the story, I learned a lot about the craft of writing.
Melanie Dobson is a master at keeping secrets and sprinkling just enough info to hang on to her reader. There's not one information dump in this entire book. Seems every nuance is strategically placed.

Dobson is also a master at painting a picture of evil without using one curse word. I have many favorite secular writers. It pains me to read profanity in their novels. Dobson proves you can show--yes, SHOW--evil characters without cursing or using God's name in vain.

This book is good. Very good. I wish I had written it. How I wish I could write this well.

The Black Cloister by Melanie Dobson is a keeper.


Debra Harris-Johnson said...

Aww excuse me, Jess, hello you are that kind of writer. You are my writing mentor, and I can't wait until you write your next book. Now I have two books on my sabatical in Florida to read. It's nice to have someone review for you. Keep up the good work we appreciate you.

Marcia Gruver said...

Jess, you proved your writing skill with this post. After reading it, I'm headed straight for Amazon to order this book.

So that sweet-faced author painted a vivid picture of evil? Hard to believe.

Christa Allan said...

I'm scared just reading your review. I'd have to read the book during the day in a room full of people!

And, haven't you been reading your own posts about writing! Sister, you're a writer!

Jessica Ferguson said...

Hey, don't let my over-the-top review scare you away from this book. It's not the kind of story that makes you scared to be alone. :) It's the kind of story that makes you realize you need to be praying for your kids. There's a great message here!

Melanie Dobson said...

Thanks so much for your amazing review, Jess! This was a tough book for me to write (especially delving into the mind of the cult leader). Thank you for all your encouragement!!