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Book Review: Amity and Sorrow

Amity and Sorrow is quite the unusual novel by Peggy Riley. It opens on the scene of a mother, Amaranth, driving her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, down an Oklahoma country road. It quickly becomes evident that they are on the run from someone or something. Because the daughters are literally bound to one another via their arms in the backseat, and because the language is evocative of the south, I first assumed this was a story about an escape from slavery. Which it is, I suppose, but not in the traditional African slave trade context.

Amity and Sorrow are the daughters of a polygamous cult leader and his first wife (among many many wives). They’ve escaped from the cult’s homesteading compound in Utah following a police raid. As the story slowly unravels we learn more about the destructive power of the cult and their father’s leadership. The family is in shambles emotionally and financially and their cultural identity and experiences are very different than those of the people they encounter in the world outside of the compound.

The novel is dark and yet hopeful as we root for the transformation and healing of the young girls and their mother as we follow the novel to its conclusion. One of the daughters, Amity has been less twisted and less damaged by her time in the cult while Sorrow has been scarred deeply in so many ways it’s not clear she’s entirely redeemable.

While I enjoyed the plot and pacing of Riley’s novel, the dialogue at times seemed forced and artificial. As I mentioned previously, there is, at times, an ‘old southern world’ feel to the dialogue that doesn’t fit the modern era the story is supposed to take place in. And the scenes surrounding first interactions with a computer and with other modern technology seem really quite contrived and plastic. Still, the novel can stand on its other merits. Overall 3 stars.

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