Anyone familiar with John Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven will be familiar with the polygamous, Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints (FLDS). In that book Krakauer recounts how religious polygamy was often used as a cover for pedophilia, and how anyone who questioned the motives of the church leaders often paid in "blood atonement."
The last name of the author of Lost Boy, Jeffs, may be familiar to anyone who has followed the saga of the FLDS, which has been in the news a lot in the past five years. Warren Jeffs, the "prophet" of this splinter cult off of the mainstream Mormon church, is the uncle of the author. The author's grandfather, Rulon Jeffs, was the "prophet" before him, and this book recounts the power struggles that took place within the FLDS, as well as the power struggles that went on within his own family - his father had three wives and 12 children, a small family by FLDS standards.
In a church like the FLDS, where men are guaranteed a "seat in the Kingdom" when they achieve "a quorum," or three wives, young men tend to be seen as "in the way" by older men in looking to complete their quorum with younger - often much younger - women.
The book is divided into four sections called "Before," "During," "After," and "Fighting Back." Brent Jeffs recounts how, as a very young child - just a boy of six or seven - he was forcibly and brutally raped by Warren Jeffs, as were at least two of his brothers. He recounts how young men were singled out for "discipline" for the slightest infractions, and made to feel like they didn't and couldn't belong to the church because of their unsanctified ways.
He recounts how, upon assuming the mantle of leadership of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs began to transform it from a faith - a fringe faith, yes, but a faith - into a cult. Outlawing such small things as pet dogs, the color red, any sort of clothing that was "worldly," and a host of other everyday things like videos of popular television shows like The Simpsons, or name brand clothing or running shoes.
He recounts how his own father was expelled from the the church by his brother, and the life they led trying to keep at least part of their family together. (Warren Jeffs had the authority to "reassign" the wives of expelled church members, and broke up hundreds of families this way in his struggle to maintain power.) He details his and his brothers slide into alcoholism and drug addiction, as they became marginalized from the only community they'd ever known.
Finally though, we are told about his long struggle to return to sanity, and even to filing a Civil suit in 2004 accusing Jeffs of abusing him.
Ultimately, this book is an uplifting look at how people can find happiness and meaning in life, even those who have had truly horrific and demeaning experiences.
Link to the segment of NPR's "Fresh Air" where Terry Gross interviews Brent Jeffs.