Kin by Shawna Kay Rodenburg, 2.5 Stars

I’m usually a pretty quick reader, but from time to time it takes FOREVER to get through a book. And usually it’s because I’m just not that into book. But I hate that. Because every book has the opportunity to get better halfway through. Although, I suppose that also means that every book has the potential to get worse halfway through.

I’m a people please and apparently a book pleaser as well. I rarely put a book down once it’s started. I have to hate it with an absolute passion. And I think that may have happened with may 1-2 books in the past three years or so. It’s rare!

That said, Kin was HARD to get through. Were there triggering topics, sure. But ultimately it just didn’t suck me in and keep me there. Anyone else read it? Disagree with me?

From the Publisher:

A heart stopping memoir of a wrenching Appalachian girlhood and a multilayered portrait of a misrepresented people, from Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award winner Shawna Kay Rodenberg.

When Shawna Kay Rodenberg was four, her father, fresh from a ruinous tour in Vietnam, spirited her family from their home in the hills of Eastern Kentucky to Minnesota, renouncing all of their earthly possessions to live in the Body, an off-the-grid End Times religious community. Her father was seeking a better, safer life for his family, but the austere communal living of prayer, bible study and strict regimentation was a bad fit for the precocious Shawna. Disciplined harshly for her many infractions, she was sexually abused by a predatory adult member of the community. Soon after the leader of the Body died and revelations of the sexual abuse came to light, her family returned to the same Kentucky mountains that their ancestors have called home for three hundred years. It is a community ravaged by the coal industry, but for all that, rich in humanity, beauty, and the complex knots of family love. Curious, resourceful, rebellious, Shawna ultimately leaves her mountain home but only as she masters a perilous balancing act between who she has been and who she will become.

Kin is a mesmerizing memoir of survival that seeks to understand and make peace with the people and places that were survived. It is above all about family-about the forgiveness and love within its bounds-and generations of Appalachians who have endured, harmed, and held each other through countless lifetimes of personal and regional tragedy.

My Review:

I love a good cult memoir. Or a dysfunctional family memoir, or tales of a hard childhood. Educated, Glass Castle, Running with Scissors (was that a memoir?) sign me up! So of course I had very high hopes for Kin by Shawna Kay Rodenburg. And I tried to like it, I really did. But the book itself didn’t quite match up with the description.

Sure, Kin was about a woman who had grown up in a dysfunctional family who had belonged to a cult and escaped. But it did feel way less dramatic than the normal cult escape. But then again, who am I to judge what’s tramautic, and what’s not?

But what was left is the Shawna grew up with a mom that seemed cool about half the time, but did nothing to protect her from her crazy weirdo dad who had some strange relationship with religion and beat her with a belt, long into her teen years. She had a sister she loved, but felt as if she were her keeper, and above all actually obeyed her parents and tried to make the most of her childhood. And still talks to her parents, it seems.

And all that might be interesting but then there was this whole part about a soldier in Vietnam that comes together later, but it doesn’t start until halfway through the book. And ultimately I was just kind of confused.

The silver lining? I could see this story successful adapted to film. It definitely had a Hillbilly Elegy feel to it. But the book, it just didn’t do it for me. And it set my reading goal for the year back a couple books since I kept putting it down and limped my way to the end of the book.

Special thanks to Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for an advanced e-book in exchange for my honest review. This one is out June 8, 2021.


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