When Watch How We Walk made the 2014 Scotiabank longlist, I noted it as a book I would like to read, then forgot about it. I was reminded of it a little while ago, and promptly requested it from the library. I am so glad I did, because I loved every word.
Reading about different religious groups fascinates me; the culture, the rituals and the history. This book is about a family who belongs to the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book about this religious group before, so I didn’t know what exactly it is that they believe, why they believe it, and how they carry out their daily lives in accordance to it.
It was fascinating to learn about the religion, yes, but this book is also heart-breaking. It’s about two sisters growing up in a strict religious environment. The parents are doing what they think is best (although it is obvious that the mother has misgivings about some of it), and as the oldest daughter grows she begins to rebel. The younger daughter, Emily, feels severe anxiety over her sister’s behaviour; she is afraid that her sister will get left behind at Armageddon. She is equally anxious for herself, constantly fretting over what might be considered acceptable and what might not (including things we would never think about, like wearing a graphic t-shirt or making snow angels).
(Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Armageddon is the means by which God will fulfil his purpose for the Earth to be populated with happy healthy humans free of sin and death. They teach that the armies of heaven will eradicate all who oppose the kingdom of God, wiping out all wicked humans on Earth, leaving only righteous mankind. –Wikipedia)
The story goes back and forth between Emily as a girl with her parents and sister, and older Emily after she has left home. Young Emily finds refuge in her Trixie Belden books.
She knows that no matter what strange or scary mess Trixie stumbles into, she will figure it out and fix it and make everything right again by the end.
Older Emily struggles with the events of the past as she tries to figure out how to move forward, without blame. Watch How We Walk is a story about faith, family, grief, identity and forgiveness.
I etched and etched that night until I could stop crying, until I no longer felt the burn of all our blame.
Really, it was so good. Why haven’t I heard more about this book?
A few things this book made me think about:
- I believe in letting others believe what they want, but not to the detriment of other people; in this case, children. How can you belong to a strict religious group and make sure that your children do not feel isolated from their peers? How can you make sure that they are not feeling too much anxiety over their own behaviour and the behaviour of those they care about?
- If the whole idea is to be free of sin and to live in peace, how can that happen if you worry all the time that you are full of it? Or, worse, having someone else tell you that you are full of sin?
- I have read two books recently that portrayed a marriage where one partner was more devoted to their religion than the other. In both cases, it was very hard on their marriage as well on their partnership in parenting. What is the answer to this?
Jennifer LoveGrove writes briefly about her own experiences growing up in a Jehovah’s Witnesses family and tries to answer some common questions about Jehovah’s Witnesses in this article in the National Post. So interesting.
… the incentive for obedience is avoiding ostracism. If you’re “disfellowshipped,” you can have no contact whatsoever with your community, and this includes your family. They must shun you. And remember, you weren’t allowed to have meaningful contact outside of your community before then, so you’re left with no one.
This conflict – pleasing your parents and not pissing off God, versus pleasing your teacher and fitting in with classmates – creates a lot of pressure that kids internalize.
An excellent review of Watch How We Walk in the National Post.