Many thanks to Booktasters and the author, Ellen Black, for the e-arc of her memoir in exchange for an honest review.
Shake That Cream by Ellen Black is her memoir about how she grew up and survived in a cult, heavy with abuse and shame.
When offered, I immediately jumped at the chance to read this. As someone who grew up in a conservative town, though nothing compared to Black’s experience, I have become very interested in stories of religious trauma, maybe as a way to make sense of my own.
I do find it harder to review memoirs because this is someone’s story, all the good, bad, and ugly parts. It’s the way they tell it that can make a book more popular–and even that is hard to criticize when someone is processing their own trauma. Yet, I think Shake That Cream did the job rather well.
The author starts in the prologue recounting how her parents tried to kidnap her daughter. Then, she goes back to her own childhood, telling us about what growing up in a cult was like and what she had to endure, before eventually circling back to the kidnapping moment. I like this circular structure as it starts with a shock factor before explaining how Black and her family could have ended in such an ugly place.
I also appreciated the complicated feelings Black expressed throughout the book. While angry at the abuse she had to endure, and still bitter, there was also a complicated love she had for her family–as they are, after all, her family. Those feelings and experiences are messy but she didn’t shy away from communicating them.
It was easy to tell the author had a hard time telling her story, though, and I think this affected the memoir–sometimes she could only give us surface details, though there were points she went all in, showing how some memories have a stronger pull on us than others. I do think, though, that a longer memoir that delved deeper could have been more impactful–especially in the time she left her parents and escaped the cult. I would have loved to read more about her own personal journey.
Obviously there are some extreme trigger warnings for this book: religious trauma, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, infidelity, and more. But, for those who can, I recommend this book. It’s reminiscent of Tara Westover’s Educated, showing how religious cults and extreme views can harm a child and cause so much trauma.
Overall, I’d give the memoir four stars and I feel honored to have been able to read the memories of this incredible woman.
Oh this sounds like a must read!
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It was really good! But can be triggering too
Yes I bet. Cults are no joke and I am sure a lot of abuse involved but still important to hear such experiences.