Jenna Miscavige Hill was raised to obey. As the niece of the Church of Scientology’s leader David Miscavige, she grew up at the center of this highly controversial and powerful organization. But at twenty-one, Jenna made a daring break, risking everything she had ever known and loved to leave Scientology once and for all. Now she speaks out about her life, the Church, and her dramatic escape, going deep inside a religion that, for decades, has been the subject of fierce debate and speculation worldwide.
Thanks to a religion class I took in college, I knew a bit about Scientology beliefs and practices going into this book; I had a pretty solid outsider’s view of the controversial religion. But this memoir does what the title says: it takes you inside the life of a young girl who was born and raised in the cult of Scientology—and it’s even more horrific than I expected it to be.
What struck me most about Jenna’s account of her childhood, adolescence and young adulthood was the absolute lack of freedom she had. As a child of parents in the Sea Org (a military-like faction comprised of the most dedicated Scientologists), her strictly regimented days were scheduled down to the minute with extreme manual labor and Scientology studies. The very structure of Scientology makes it impossible to think for oneself or to question Scientology in any way. Doing so results in swift and harsh punishment, including restricted access to food and even banishment to the Rehabilitation Project Force, where one is essentially a prisoner who works and studies all day and is refused contact with the outside world, including very restricted communication with one’s family. Even when she got older, Jenna’s life was completely at the whim of the Scientology higher-ups: they told her where to live, what her job was, and with whom she was allowed to associate. She had extremely limited contact with her parents, and when she got older, the church controlled even her dating habits, refusing to let her marry her boyfriend and punishing her harshly when it became known that the two had had premarital sexual relations.
In my opinion, the criticism of the church of Scientology should be focused not on their actual beliefs but on the way the organization operates and how badly it treats its members (even those who have sacrificed everything, including family, for the church). I don’t think it’s my place to judge what they believe about how humans came to be, or in what supernatural entities they believe—but I definitely take issue with their disconnection policy, for example, wherein they refuse to let current members communicate with their family members who have left the church; or with the fact that they control every single aspect of the lives of their most dedicated members.
Jenna struck me as an individual with a strong sense of self. It’s remarkable that someone who knew nothing about the world beyond Scientology could find the strength within herself to question the church and to fight against the authority figures within it. I was entirely rooting for Jenna, and I loved the parts of the book where she finally started to recognize the hypocrisy within the church, to stand up for herself and to fight back (often physically!).
My only criticism of this book would have to be the writing style and the lack of proofreading. Jenna has such an unusual and fascinating life experience, but the prose is so flat and straightforward. There isn’t much character development (possibly because in real life, Scientologists aren’t really allowed to develop character or individuality). And, worst of all, there are so many typos! The compulsive proofreader in me could not believe that so many typos, missing punctuation marks and even missing words got past whoever was supposed to be proofing that book. I mean, everyone misses something now and then, and it certainly wasn’t unreadable, but sometimes there were several errors per page! Yikes.
But please, if you have an interest in this book, don’t let the typos put you off. It’s still a fascinating and valuable book that sheds light on an extremely controversial and abusive organization, and that’s very important.