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Book Review: Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall

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This book deals with the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the extremely conservative sect of Mormonism that has recently been in the national news with the raid on a Texas FLDS camp. Mainstream Mormonism is not a factor in this book. All references and opinions in this review are strictly based on the FLDS as presented in these pages.

Stolen Innocence is the autobiography of Elissa Wall, a former FLDS member who managed to break free from the religion. Elissa was born into the FLDS. Her mother – who birthed 18 children – was the second of three wives. All three were “assigned” to Mr. Wall, and it led to a strained home life. After much shuffling, Sharon Wall and all her birth children were removed from the Wall residence. After staying with relatives, the prophet “assigned” them to a new man, Fred Jessop. He was an elder in the FLDS community, and was to be Elissa’s new father. She was not allowed any contact with her biological father.

The FLDS operated much like a cult. Television and pop music were banned. Clothing was restricted to heavy prairie-style dresses that covered clavicle to ankle, even in the summer. For a brief time, children were allowed to attend public school. But when prophet Rulon Jeffs fell ill, and his son Warren took over, things became even stricter. Children were forbidden to attend public school. Their education came from church elders, was completely based in religious teachings, and often children were pulled from school by the time they reached their teen years.

Throughout her childhood, many of Elissa’s siblings were either “married” off, shipped off to “behavioral camps,” or simply excommunicated. But the trauma doesn’t end there for Elissa. At age 14, she is assigned to “marry” Allen, her first cousin, a man of 18 who was quite a bully to Elissa in their childhood. Despite constant pleas for help – from church elders, from her new father Fred, from her mother, from her older siblings – no one would allow her to postpone her “marriage.” The marriage is not a legal one; the FLDS members marry in secret across the Nevada border to avoid the attention of the authorities.

Elissa, too young and unworldly to understand her situation, is miserable. Allen rapes her nightly, insisting that it is her duty as a good FLDS wife to submit to his every desire. Having had no education on the subject, Elissa doesn’t have words to describe what is happening to her. That doesn’t stop her from reaching out for help – but none was forthcoming.

Elissa grew more and more rebellious. She got a waitressing job outside the FLDS community, and skimmed money out of her paycheck (the entirety of which was supposed to go to her husband and the church) to put towards CDs and movies. She bought a truck, and began to live out of it, afraid to go home to her husband. She would only see him once a week or so.

A turning point came for Elissa during her fourth miscarriage. Not having told anyone she was pregnant, she jumped in her truck and left the compound. Her truck got stuck in the mud, in the middle of nowhere, and she was close to suicide when Lamont, a friend of a friend, happened by and rescued her. Lamont was also an FLDS member, and had an equally traumatic experience in the church. Their friendship soon grows to love, and after a few months, the two escape the FLDS together.

Out of the FLDS, Elissa – despite tremendous fear – agrees to bring suit against Warren Jeffs for, among other charges, accomplice to rape. He is found guilty. As of the writing of this book, a plan was made to bring rape charges against Allen, but it is not clear if any were filed.

The book is lengthy – over 400 pages – but a quick read. Wall does a good job of explaining the beliefs of the FLDS church for those of us who are unfamiliar with the religion, and she does so in a straightforward manner that is neither pro-FLDS nor bitter or angry. It is a little difficult for me to understand the true fear that is instilled in these believers – that if they do not do as they are told and “keep sweet” that they are damned to hell, and that their prophet is their god’s mouthpiece on earth.

Like most autobiographies, it can get a little repetitive and self-serving. Wall is constantly speaking of her feelings, which are the same over and over again: fear, mainly, but also confusion, anxiety, and just a touch of anger. A person can only read about the fear and anxiety she faces when speaking to a church elder so many times before it becomes grating.

The book is interesting, and topical. If you are looking for sordid details about what goes on in a polygamous cult, you won’t find that here. But if you are looking for a straightforward and mostly unbiased description of the FLDS, this is a good choice.

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About Alyse

  • non believer

    I think its fiction and she should be ashamed of herself. She was clearly a rebellious teen who didnt want to be in the church.

  • Alyse

    Of course she didn’t want to be in the church. They kept here there with brainwashing

  • Satoia

    I think she must have been one sour apple and that as non believer said, she just wants to cover up her mistakes by making someone else look bad.

  • Megan

    It shocks me that other people would actually call Elissa a liar. What do you people actually know about this so-called religion? Rebellious teen or not, she is an AMERICAN and therefore she has a RIGHT to speak up and leave.

  • Jennifer Bogart

    Thanks for reviewing this Elyse. I grew up LDS (they totally ignore the polygamy issue), but the truth is that the founder of all LDS sects, Joseph Smith, was a raging polygamist and false prophet.

  • MelR

    I am reading this book now and have been deeply affected by the content. My heart goes out to Elissa for the pain she was force to endure. She has my upmost respect for finding the courage and strength to break away and hold the responsible party/parties accountable. Keep up the good work Elissa. You are a strong woman who deserves all the happiness in the world.

  • Amber

    I just finished this book 2day and i thought it was one of the best boks i have ever read. These people r so brainwashed and believe everything they r told. I say every1 reads it!!

  • Laurie

    Congrats Elissa for your bravery. I live in St George, Utah and see these young girls married off to old men and pregnant. Elissa story tells it the way it is!

  • Tricia

    I am still reading the book – but am almost done. I couldn’t put the book down. I have so much respect for Elissa – she has come a long way. I was thinking this morning about how God was with her through all this. He of course didn’t cause the miscarriages – but let them happen – because He knew it would be best for her. Not wanting any babies with Allen – and probably not being able to get her child out – if she wanted to leave. And then meeting LaMont, and having 2 wonderful children with him. You can see how God was with her the whole time. I am just so thrilled that her life is now a great one – married to a man she loves and having two beautiful children and having the strength to go through with testifying against the parties responsible for the suffering she endured. God Bless you Elissa!

  • bailie

    I just finished this book, and was not able to put it down until i had finished it. You are an extraordinary person and it took a lot of courage for you to come forth with your story. I hope that your future is bright with your family and it brings you and your family, as well as your sisters and brothers much happiness. Keep strong.

  • Debbie

    I too, have just finished reading this book and cannot believe what Elissa and many other girls are forced to go through with. How they are told to live their lives. I cannot believe how so many people can be so brainwashed. I wish Elissa and her family all the happiness they deserve and I hope many women and young girls can learn from her experiences. I truly believe that God wants everyone to be happy and if it’s not living the FLDS lifestyle then, they should get out.

  • Paula

    I am reading the book now. I am having trouble putting it down. I relate to her and the poor girls life was almost ruined. I was brought up a Jehovah’s Witness and it ruined my childhood but it was nothing compared to what this Cult that Elissa grew up in. She was very brave to leave and to expose them.
    Paula from Ontario Canada

  • Fran

    I purchased the book plus the CD,s and I feel so sad for Elissa. I came from a Dutch community and there was alot of the same things happening. My brother,s murder was hushed up.
    Elissa stand proud and I pray for you each day.

  • Vickster

    Once i started this book I could not put it down. For those who were raised outside a restrictive community of any kind or religion, it is difficult to imagine the mind control and power that the leaders can exert over their followers.

    People ask why they just didn’t leave. The communities are so extremely isolated in the rocky desert of Southern Utah, it would have been impossible for anyone to get out witout help, and it would have meant the loss of their families forever. Having grown up in the mainstream Mormon church, I can see how the doctrines have been so warped and twisted to fit whatever it was that Jeffs and his ilk wanted to do. Sad but true.

    That said, I thought the editing of this book was very poor. Although it was in Elissa’s voice and I could forgive some errors, but Lily Pulitzer should know better. Incorrect word usage, misspellings, poor grammar, and sentences that made no sense — maybe because a word or phrase was omitted. At time, it was difficult to get through because I had to keep going back to re-read the passages. Don’t publishers use proofreaders any more? I wanted to get out my red pen and send the book back to Harper Collins.