Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall

One of the reasons that I love reading autobiographies is because I believe strongly in Charlotte Mason’s teaching that “autobiographies… often lift the veil, for the writer may make free with himself.” Even though this book isn’t the kind of book I normally discuss on here, I find it really interesting to read other people’s stories and learn from them. I thought some of you might like it too :)

I picked up this book with no expectations. Aside from the press attention that occurred during the trial of Warren Jeffs, I knew very little about the FLDS or Elissa Wall.

This book taught me many things about the FLDS sect. Before reading this, I didn’t realize that the “prophet” had such power over the everyday lives of the members of their community. As Walls says early on in the book, “The prophet decides when two people should marry, when families can form, and when families that are not working are to be reorganized.”

She also describes how,

It was common practice to expel men… all that is required is for the prophet or someone acting at his direction to say: “You have lost your priesthood.” The significance of this is enormous for believers, as it creates a culture of fear. If a husband loses his priesthood, his family is literally no longer his. In addition, he has to leave his land and home because his home is owned by the FLDS Church and controlled by the priesthood. Faithful wives and children will accept these decisions and wait to be reassigned to another man.

Elissa’s story helped me to better understand the mindset of someone in the FLDS. I’ve never understand why polygamy was so central to the faith of those in the FLDS. Wall’s explanation of how a man must have three wives in order to attain the highest level of heaven was really eye-opening. This “need” to have at least three wives drives men to do what they can to please to prophet and show how faithful they are. This is the only way that they may have at least 3 wives assigned to them and not have their wives ever taken away. Removal of their wives (and subsequent reassigning of their families to new men) causes men to lose their place in heaven.

In this book, Elissa is honest about what her life in a polygamous family was like. There were parts that were great and parts that they tried to hide. I’ve seen interviews with women who live in plural marriages, but reading it from a child’s point of view was enlightening. It is clear that Elissa really loves her family and that she feels that her mother and father were trying to do their best to walk the line between taking care of their families and doing what they felt they needed to do to ensure them all a place in heaven.

Reading about the psychological impact of cultural conditioning was both sad and fascinating. Many of the teachings were strange and contradictory, but they were accepted. One such is example is that “Warren preached that when a family remarried to another man, God changed their blood and DNA to match that of the priesthood man they now belonged to. If we did not have worthy blood running through our veins, we could not gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven.” Pretty crazy, no?

I saw that other reviewers criticized Elissa because she could come across as immature or unable to take responsibility. It did not come across that way to me. On the contrary, I read it as a book written by a woman who is still young, still finding herself, and still in the midst of healing. I thought that she tried to be honest about her shortcomings. I think that she shared a lot of her flaws and that they made her story more credible rather than less.

I enjoyed reading this book. My one complaint is that I wish that they would’ve made the authorship more clear. I finished the book wondering how many of the words were from Elissa and how many were from her co-author. On GoodReads, Elissa’s name is listed first, but the Kindle edition has her co-author, Lisa Pulitzer first. The book is written as a first-hand account, but the listing of Lisa Pulitzer first makes me wonder how much was reconstructed by her.

Overall, I’m glad that I read this book. It was far less graphic than I expected, and I think she did a good job of explaining her side of the story.

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  1. I loved this book – it’s one of the few my husband has read in the time I’ve known him (to say he isn’t a reader is putting it mildly!)
    It really helped him process his upbringing in a non-polygamous cult – seeing something so clearly wrong that employed the same brainwashing, groupthink, and peer pressure tactics was an eye-opener.

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