LOUIS THEROUX: 'For anyone who enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy or Educated, Unfollow is an essential text'
PANDORA SYKES: 'Such a moving, redemptive, clear-eyed account of religious indoctrination'
NICK HORNBY: 'A beautiful, gripping book about a singular soul, and an unexpected redemption'
DOLLY ALDERTON: 'A modern-day parable for how we should speak and listen to each other'
JON RONSON: 'Her journey - from Westboro to becoming one of the most empathetic, thoughtful, humanistic writers around - is exceptional and inspiring'
An Amazon Best Book of 2019
As featured on the BBC documentaries, 'The Most Hated Family in America' and 'Surviving America's Most Hated Family'
It was an upbringing in many ways normal. A loving home, shared with squabbling siblings, overseen by devoted parents. Yet in other ways it was the precise opposite: a revolving door of TV camera crews and documentary makers, a world of extreme discipline, of siblings vanishing in the night.
Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church - the fire-and-brimstone religious sect at once aggressively homophobic and anti-Semitic, rejoiceful for AIDS and natural disasters, and notorious for its picketing the funerals of American soldiers. From her first public protest, aged five, to her instrumental role in spreading the church's invective via social media, her formative years brought their difficulties. But being reviled was not one of them. She was preaching God's truth. She was, in her words, 'all in'.
In November 2012, at the age of twenty-six, she left the church, her family, and her life behind.
Unfollow is a story about the rarest thing of all: a person changing their mind. It is a fascinating insight into a closed world of extreme belief, a biography of a complex family, and a hope-inspiring memoir of a young woman finding the courage to find compassion for others, as well as herself.
'A gripping story, beautifully told . . . It takes real talent to produce a book like this. Its message could not be more urgent' Sunday Times
'Hate's kryptonite' Washington Examiner
'An exceptional book' The Times
'A nuanced portrait of the lure and pain of zealotry' New York Times
'Unfolds like a suspense novel . . . A brave, unsettling, and fascinating memoir about the damage done by religious fundamentalism' NPR
Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, charts her journey from childhood church devotee to adult skeptic in her excellent debut memoir. She explores her early years immersed in the insular community of her family's church, a Kansas-based denomination known for picketing funerals of U.S. service members and widely decried as a hate group. Convinced by the church's teachings about scripture and sin, Phelps-Roper recounts spending her adolescence calling America to repentance and defending the views of the Westboro Baptist Church vociferously on Twitter. But then, as a young adult, in part due to thoughtful interactions on Twitter where she spars with critics of her church but also "relished confounding expectations," her faith begins to unravel. After she expresses her doubts, she is ostracized from her family. Phelps-Roper's intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose ("the foundation of it all was a belief that our hearts had led us true when they told us the Bible was the answer... our unreliable, desperately wicked, deceitful hearts), an eye for detail, and a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible. She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members, and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to clich or condescending to her former self. For anyone interested in the power of rhetoric, belief, and family, Phelps-Roper's powerful, empathetic memoir will be a must-read.