Friday, May 29, 2009

Escape by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer (a review)

Escape by Carolyn JessopI’ve been having a lot of trouble writing reviews recently, in part because I’m feeling overwhelmed by the number of books I need to review at the moment (which doesn’t help, of course, as they just keep piling up). In an attempt to jumpstart my reviewing process, I thought I’d review my most recent read instead of the book I read the longest ago.

I first heard about Mormon fundamentalism when I read the eye-opening (and horrifying) non-fiction book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer several years ago. I have since read the novel The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (read my review) and I’m a big fan of the TV series Big Love. So I figured it was about time I read a book written by someone who grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon community. Escape by Carolyn Jessop (with Laura Palmer) is the autobiography of a woman who was a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), one of the largest Mormon fundamentalist denominations. At the age of 18, Jessop was forced to marry a 50-year-old man (Merrill Jessop, who is now the de facto leader of the FLDS), with whom she would have eight children over the next 15 years. In 2003, she fled her community with all her children, including a disabled toddler, and was the first woman ever granted full custody of her children in a suit involving the FLDS.

Carolyn’s story is shocking. Abuse, violence and neglect are common occurrences in the FLDS community. Once Warren Jeffs takes over as prophet, things get even worse, and some of the stories she relates are really hard to read. Unfortunately, the writing in this book could have done with more editing. At least twice I had to go back to see if I’d missed something because the storyline was confusing. For example, in one chapter, Jessop’s sister-wife Cathleen was her only ally among her husband’s wives; a couple of chapters later she’d “grown closer to Tammy than any of the other wives” (p. 156), without any explanation for this shift. Despite the clunky writing, I would still recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about Mormon fundamentalism from the inside. Escape is far from being a literary masterpiece, but it is an amazing story told by a courageous woman who “chose freedom over fear” and won.

Read what other reviewers thought by visiting these blogs:
2 Kids and Tired Book ReviewsBook AddictionBooks of MeeMaw Books BlogMindless MeanderingSo Many Books, So Little TimeThe 3 R’s: Reading, ’Riting, and RandomnessWhat Was I Reading?


  1. I just finished watching Big Love and loved it! I thought I probably wouldn't be able to enjoy it because I don't condone polygamy, but no, the show was done very well.

  2. Thanks for the link love. I had a hard time with this one.

  3. I read this book last summer and enjoyed it. I wondered if I'd have the strength she does.

  4. It's funny, Mee, because when I started watching Big Love I very much thought, well as long as polygamy is between consenting adults, what's the problem? But even in the case of Bill's family, it is problematic. The setup encourages lying, manipulation, etc. Anyway, it's a thought-provoking show!

    You're welcome, Holly. It wasn't an easy story to read, that's for sure.

    Kathy, I'm not sure I would have!

  5. Nice review! Carolyn's experience is really shocking! The writing would disappoint me too, but like you said, I'll go ahead and pick it up from the library when I'm ready to read it, rather than owning it!