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Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope

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As featured on the BBC documentary, 'The Most Hated Family in America' 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 Ph As featured on the BBC documentary, 'The Most Hated Family in America' 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.


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As featured on the BBC documentary, 'The Most Hated Family in America' 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 Ph As featured on the BBC documentary, 'The Most Hated Family in America' 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.

30 review for Unfollow: A Journey from Hatred to Hope

  1. 5 out of 5

    Laura Floyd

    Hi. I'm Laura from Chapter 8. This is NOT an unbiased review. Some framework: I have the great privilege and pleasure to call Megan a beloved friend. I have been by her side - always metaphorically, sometimes literally - since the events of Chapter 8. As a person, I find Megan to be one of the most vibrant, passionate, and brave human beings I have ever met. The strength it took her to not only survive all the events of this book, but also to be the driving force behind them, takes my breath awa Hi. I'm Laura from Chapter 8. This is NOT an unbiased review. Some framework: I have the great privilege and pleasure to call Megan a beloved friend. I have been by her side - always metaphorically, sometimes literally - since the events of Chapter 8. As a person, I find Megan to be one of the most vibrant, passionate, and brave human beings I have ever met. The strength it took her to not only survive all the events of this book, but also to be the driving force behind them, takes my breath away. The strength she continues to display as she takes on the world and the Westboro Baptist Church, one TED Talk, one conference panel, one joyfully lived day at a time, leaves me in awe. Okay. Enough love letter. Let's talk about this book. I read a lot of early chapter drafts. Before reading this book as a completed whole, I knew what it was about. I knew its themes and history and narrative style. I have admired Megan's writing since the very first draft I read. Her language flows lyrically, I am jealous of her vocabulary. She really is as fast-talking in real life as the book implies, but in writing her words can keep up with the speed of her thoughts, and from those words she spins out love, heartache, and resolution, all in equal measure. No amount of draft-reading could have prepared me for the impact the book would have on me, read as a cohesive whole. I actually didn't mean to pick it up and read it straight through just now. I picked it up to admire its completion and to feel what it was like now that it was an actual book. My eyes caught on the opening lines. I found myself skimming through chapter one, and by chapter two I was properly reading and couldn't put it down. I already knew the whole story. I knew the plot twists, I knew the ending. I read anyway, gobbling it up as if it were the first time. The early chapters contain a lot of background. There's something very disconcerting and occasionally even repulsive, reading about the history and tactics of the WBC from the perspective of someone deeply entrenched, someone who not only knew the doctrines but lived for them, reveled in them. The unabashedness with which Megan could shout mockery and insults evokes a kind of visceral repulsion, and knowing that it was her loving family that trained her up in these ways of callous cruelty doubles the discomfiture. Seeing how the public preaching tactics sat hand-in-hand with the warmth and love that the Phelps family displayed to each other is downright disconcerting. Once Megan shifts from reporting on the history of her family/church to telling of how her own mind engaged with their teachings and began slowly unraveling the precepts she'd held firm all her life, the real humanity of her situation becomes apparent. It seems impossible that such love and such cruelty could live together in the same heart, and it seems obvious that such a mental paradox would eventually have to give way under its own weight, but most of us have never been so thoroughly trapped by our circumstances. The cost of disobedience and rebellion for Megan was not just high, it was everything. By the end of chapter 7, I was in tears. I've known loss to death less painful than the loss Megan describes of her living family, and you feel her loss in every word. I couldn't help but imagine how her family would feel reading this book. Will they read it? Can they get past the ugliness of plain truths that they will feel, instead, as lies and slander? Will they be able to feel Megan's love of them, her desperate desire to save them from themselves and have them back in her life? Can they even get an inkling, through the indoctrination that would inform such a reading, of her deep sincerity? I hope so. Throughout the book, Megan shows us plainly the workings of her mind and heart - the ways she struggled to understand herself, her family, and their places in the world. Megan doesn't just observe the events that shaped her - she passes judgment on the actions of her family, and on her own past actions as well. But she also comes away with a sense of purpose and determination to make changes for the better. I have learned so much from Megan about what it means to love, to lose, and to continue loving. I have learned resilience from her, and boundless hope. I have learned, above and beyond all, the earth-shattering importance of learning how to change your mind. I can't wait for the rest of you to read this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    I, myself, am agnostic/non-religious, but I don't have an issue with others believing in a higher being as in this life, we need to hold dear those things that bring us comfort. The trouble really begins when a religious group turns into a cult. I first heard about Westboro Baptist Church through Louis Theroux's programme some time ago and finding it intriguing I knew when I spotted this that it was right up my street. Megan Phelps-Roper delivers a scathing attack on the indoctrination and behav I, myself, am agnostic/non-religious, but I don't have an issue with others believing in a higher being as in this life, we need to hold dear those things that bring us comfort. The trouble really begins when a religious group turns into a cult. I first heard about Westboro Baptist Church through Louis Theroux's programme some time ago and finding it intriguing I knew when I spotted this that it was right up my street. Megan Phelps-Roper delivers a scathing attack on the indoctrination and behaviour she experienced all through her childhood and formative years. What I love is that it very much reads like a thriller but of course, it's real-life; you have to keep reminding yourself that the author went through these shocking things. Unfollow is a raw and honest written account of life both inside and outside the church and her struggle to escape from a life and family she no longer wanted to be part of. She has finally been able to move on from this and is living freely but there is no doubt it will impact her forever. A deeply moving and emotional read written in an exquisitely compassionate and forgiving tone, and I am so glad to hear of her meeting and marrying the man she loved. This rings with a powerful authenticity and will undoubtedly stay with me for a long time to come. Phelps-Roper pens a brave and fiercely inspirational book in which she sings like a bird finally released from its cage. Highly recommended. Many thanks to riverrun for an ARC.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Poppy

    Fantastic.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Grace -breadandbutterbooks

    As a queer person, attacked in the past by vicious homophobes, I never thought I would cry at a description of Fred Phelps's last days. But I did, I wept as this book ended. The infamous 'Gramps' was subject to the cruelty of the church he created in his final days, while sick and only semi-lucid, taken out of his home and marriage and put into a hospice, alone. This is a memoir as much about a family as it is about a religious cult known for its GOD HATES FAGS signs. Megan Phelps-Rop As a queer person, attacked in the past by vicious homophobes, I never thought I would cry at a description of Fred Phelps's last days. But I did, I wept as this book ended. The infamous 'Gramps' was subject to the cruelty of the church he created in his final days, while sick and only semi-lucid, taken out of his home and marriage and put into a hospice, alone. This is a memoir as much about a family as it is about a religious cult known for its GOD HATES FAGS signs. Megan Phelps-Roper is a wonderful writer, and her perspective is vital. Through her writing we can come to understand how sentiments like GOD HATES FAGS and PRAY FOR MORE DEAD SOLDIERS are justified by those who hold the signs. Where these beliefs come from, which Bible verses 'support' them, and the pressure on Westboro Baptist Church members to never question these beliefs. Never question the church. The church that, for Phelps-Roper, was mostly made up of her family - how, then, to leave your entire world behind when you no longer believe? This is not a tell-all, not a peep show into a 'crazy' family, this is not about the exceptional: this is about the everyday. Unfollow is practical, realistic, a memoir that details what it is that can change the mind of someone who has extreme, hateful views. A perspective we dearly need as hate spreads and becomes everyday.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Figgy

    After watching Louis Theroux's original visit to the Westboro Baptist Church over a decade ago, and his visit around 2012 (either just before or just after Megan left), I was fascinated to know how someone so embedded in a familial culture of hatred could see the light, as it were, and leave that culture behind, especially knowing that it would likely mean excommunication from the family. So, needless to say, I am UNBELIEVABLY curious and excited to dive into this one!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jenna Bookish

    This post will be a little different than most on my page; I’d like to post less of a formal review and really talk more about why this book is so important to me. In terms of quality, I’ll be brief. Megan is eloquent and this subject matter of her memoir is totally riveting. Every time I had to set this book down to take care of real life felt like a chore. But beyond being an enjoyable read, a lo This post will be a little different than most on my page; I’d like to post less of a formal review and really talk more about why this book is so important to me. In terms of quality, I’ll be brief. Megan is eloquent and this subject matter of her memoir is totally riveting. Every time I had to set this book down to take care of real life felt like a chore. But beyond being an enjoyable read, a lot of what Megan had to say feel so terribly timely. We live in truly weird times. The internet is forever and a ruined reputation can be increasingly difficult to escape, especially for anyone remotely in the public eye. Strangers snipe at each other on Facebook in public comment sections. Ten year old tweets are dragged from the depths of Twitter to discredit people who have long since grown out of and apologized for the attitudes they expressed at the time. Let me be clear; this is not anti-accountability. People who mess up or hurt people should apologize and see if there is a way to make amends to those who were harmed. But implicit in Megan’s story is a message that is, at its heart, simply pro-empathy. Megan left her church in large part because of people who were able to stop seeing her as a cog in the Westboro machine and engage with her as a human being. They pushed back against her harmful ideas, but treated her as a person who was capable of improvement rather than a person who needed to be punished. It is never the responsibility of harmed parties to try to change the extremist views of those who have hurt them. But for those who do have the ability and emotional energy to do so, we must first empathize. We cannot change views that we don’t take the time to understand. We cannot change people whom we treat as inherently unworthy and irredeemable. Megan was raised in a church that, like many extremist groups, taught her the world would reject her forever because of the way she grew up. If we want more people to experience the growth that she did, we must always be prepared to prove them wrong about us. You can read all of my reviews on my blog, Jenna Bookish! Facebook | Instagram | Tumblr

  7. 4 out of 5

    TJL

    Second Verse, Same as the First: Don't feed the damn trolls, kids. Don't do it. And while she spoke in vaguer terms at the end, the author's got a good message about tribalism, and a total unwillingness to "give a platform" to speech you deem as "harmful", unwillingness to debate, etc, etc. I mean, just two days ago I was on Tumblr and- no joke!- witnessed one of the unironic, infamous instances of "Um, excuse me, I thought I should tell you that this person you' Second Verse, Same as the First: Don't feed the damn trolls, kids. Don't do it. And while she spoke in vaguer terms at the end, the author's got a good message about tribalism, and a total unwillingness to "give a platform" to speech you deem as "harmful", unwillingness to debate, etc, etc. I mean, just two days ago I was on Tumblr and- no joke!- witnessed one of the unironic, infamous instances of "Um, excuse me, I thought I should tell you that this person you're reblogging from is a Republican, and that means he's ~problematic~ and you shouldn't be following him/associating with him." And like clockwork, the replies were coming in "Thank you!" "OMG I DIDN'T KNOW!" "I am SO sorry that I've reblogged things from this evil person!" "Golly, I'll unfollow him right now!" It's fucking Orwellian (and very typical of Tumblr tbh), tribalistic, and I give the author a lot of credit for calling that sort of mindset out in the book- I give her even more credit for outlining why "refusing to give ideas you don't like a platform" doesn't really work in this day and age. I mean, it's gonna go in one ear and out the other because- well, y'know: "Me and MY side aren't the problem, they and THEIR people are!" But it's still a good message.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Andy

    Megan Phelps-Roper is the voice we all need to hear in an increasingly polarized, angry and hateful world. It's so much easier to think of the Westboro Baptist Church as a bunch of evil, stupid loony tunes. It's so much easier to think of a lot of people as evil, stupid loony tunes (and of course some of them are). But by introducing her family as intelligent, loving and complex human beings (with an abhorrent and hateful worldview) *in effect if not in intent*, Megan forces me to con Megan Phelps-Roper is the voice we all need to hear in an increasingly polarized, angry and hateful world. It's so much easier to think of the Westboro Baptist Church as a bunch of evil, stupid loony tunes. It's so much easier to think of a lot of people as evil, stupid loony tunes (and of course some of them are). But by introducing her family as intelligent, loving and complex human beings (with an abhorrent and hateful worldview) *in effect if not in intent*, Megan forces me to consider that all the people I want to write off might also be intelligent, loving and complex human beings. Furthermore, by writing about how good-faith human connection and engagement eventually changed her mind, Megan has challenged me to approach everyone in the world around me AS IF good faith human connection and engagement is the only way for me to ever get my point of view across or actually understand theirs. Taking this message to heart makes the world a better place. It makes my life more interesting and keeps me constantly learning. It leads me to have conversations across differences I would have blanched at before. It leads me to a place where I can actually understand the position of people I disagree with so we can at least have a conversation in good faith. Hearing Megan and Grace's story has made me a less hateful person. For that I will be eternally grateful to them. Everyone should read this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anneke

    Book Review: Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church Author: Megan Phelps-Roper Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication Date: October 8, 2019 Review Date: May 16, 2019 I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I’m aware that I had had access to the book months before publication. I usually wait until closer publication time to read and review NetGalley books. But in this case, I was ve Book Review: Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church Author: Megan Phelps-Roper Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication Date: October 8, 2019 Review Date: May 16, 2019 I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I’m aware that I had had access to the book months before publication. I usually wait until closer publication time to read and review NetGalley books. But in this case, I was very interested in the book and didn’t want to wait to read and review it. This is a memoir written by one of the family members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. The church is very small; it’s really primarily made up of the Phelps family. Megan is the granddaughter of the church founder, Fred Phelps. I remember reading about the church, as you may have. This is the group that picketed veterans’ funerals and held up signs saying, “God hates fags!” I remember being outraged when reading about their demonstrations, as were many others who read about them or held counter protests against their outrageous demonstrations. I love reading memoirs. This memoir reminded me of the book Educated by Tara Westover, and other memoirs of people who had grown up in cults and somehow came to consciousness and left their cults. During the course of my life, I’ve been involved with three cults, including a Christian one. So I have some understanding of what happens in cults, and what it takes to remove oneself from their mental and emotional grip. The WBC (Westboro Baptist Church) is a particularly insidiously hateful cult. Growing up in this cult must have been especially brutal. Megan, at around age 26, had an awakening one day, while painting a bedroom with her sister. Out of the blue, she saw how cruel her family had been and how she had been corralled into their cultish lifestyle. She, along with her sister, left the cult/the church/her family over the course of a few months. The memoir spells out her awakening and her leaving the church. My heart ached for her, and I am so grateful she had the strength to leave. The writing was a bit verbose, a little more detail about her feelings and process than I thought necessary. But I imagine the writing of the memoir helped her with her liberation. If you like to read memoir and/or have an interest in cults, this will be an interesting book for you. I give it 5 stars, despite some of the excessive processing. Highly recommended. Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux for allowing me an early look at this memoir. This review will be posted on NetGalley, Goodreads and Amazon. #netgalley #unfollow #farrarstrausandgiroux #meganphelps-roper #memoir #cults

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lloyd

    I can imagine this, Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, is the biography the author, Megan Phelps-Roper, needed to write, but publishing it all doesn’t make for nearly as interesting of a read as it could have been. It ends when her life really starts. The author seems very successful at putting herself back at that age in that place. And she touches many unimaginably emotionally sensitive times in her life including the legacy of physical abuse and t I can imagine this, Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church, is the biography the author, Megan Phelps-Roper, needed to write, but publishing it all doesn’t make for nearly as interesting of a read as it could have been. It ends when her life really starts. The author seems very successful at putting herself back at that age in that place. And she touches many unimaginably emotionally sensitive times in her life including the legacy of physical abuse and the coup against her mother’s role in the church. It’s surprising that she doesn’t weigh the change in leadership of her church as the main catalyst of her disillusionment. How she described these events was also the chapter where I gave up on getting anything raw. I wanted to understand really who the new elders were and what her and the old leaders where like and how the transition happened. The message of how controlling they were was clear, but not by whose authority and how they maintained that authority. I couldn't relate to or understand adults being submissive to the emotional abusive community. The author touched upon how the decision process seemed open previously, but I suspect it was actually a straight patriarchy with her family being favored. If the change in leadership really was impenetrable to the author that would have been interesting to document and comment on more as well. Throughout the book it is a historical account sewn together with the Christian biblical quotes that enabled her justification. Although the prose is very good, I waited the whole book for her reflections and insights. It left me disappointed. Did the author finish the story? Did she exhaust herself in the emotional work by recounting her painful experiences? Or is she keeping her recent experiences for herself and the privacy of her new family. The book’s “back cover” description ends “Phelps-Roper’s life story exposes the dangers of ...” But we only get the less interesting *half* of her life. What is interesting to me is who she became in the seven years since freeing herself; how she continues to reprogram herself and how she made dating & relationships work while hopefully developing independence. The author doesn’t seem to revisit how gross her family’s view of the lack of possible mates was. How was she able to re-orient this to a healthy pursuit once she escaped? What makes her relationship with her husband successful? It’s wonderful she is a new parent. Does she have any professional plans? She tells us she is no longer praying, but what does her spirituality look like now? Since drafting this review, “I've watched the author's incredible TED 2017 talk: I grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Here's why I left.” Why wasn't that content included and expanded upon in the book?

  11. 4 out of 5

    BookOfCinz

    I was slack-jawed to realize that there was more than one way to read the text—that from one passage, multiple meanings could be deduced without contradicting the language in the original. That interpretation was a phenomenon with real implications for believers. That quote basically summarizes why we are here today and why this book was written. Before reading this book I did not know about Megan and the Westboro Baptist Church. I decided to give this book a read because of the blurb and beca I was slack-jawed to realize that there was more than one way to read the text—that from one passage, multiple meanings could be deduced without contradicting the language in the original. That interpretation was a phenomenon with real implications for believers. That quote basically summarizes why we are here today and why this book was written. Before reading this book I did not know about Megan and the Westboro Baptist Church. I decided to give this book a read because of the blurb and because as a Follower of Christ I wanted to hear from someone who "left the church". Needless to say, I wasn't prepared for the doctrine Westboro Baptist church preached and believed in. Megan gives a deeply personal look into how she was raised, how she ended up with these beliefs, how the Bible- or the improper use of the scriptures gave her a firm standing in her hate and how her family beliefs shaped hers as well. There is so much to unpack and I think Megan tries with this memoir but so much more still needs to discuss. In reading her accounting I kept wondering-, "how did they get it so "wrong". God is love and He requires us to love so for church to build their beliefs on something so counter to the God they serve was an eye opener. Also, this is nothing new, for centuries people have been quoting the Bible for their benefit. Overall I liked how Megan came to the realization and her whole journey through that. I like that she questions and makes me question what I hear. I would have liked to find out more about what Megan's life is like now. What are her beliefs, how is she unpacking this world as it is- but alas, this is not "Life After Westboro Baptist Church: A memoir". She gave us exactly what she said she would in the title- anything else would just have been really nice... An interesting read to say the least.... If you are like me and did not know a thing about the Westboro Baptist Church but is still curious If there truly was more than one legitimate way to understand the world, then there was nothing inherently wrong with people who believed differently than we did. We could cease presuming most people were evil and ill-intentioned.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Julie Garner

    I received an ARC of this book. I wasn't sure what to make of this book when my sales rep placed it in my hands. I am a happily married lesbian and this person was a highly serving member of the Westboro Baptist Church who condemned me to a life in hell and prayed for my death. Did I really want to re-live that venom? I am so very glad that I did. You know how they say, walk a mile in someone else's shoes. That is what this book did for me. Yes, I had to re-live moments in history that I received an ARC of this book. I wasn't sure what to make of this book when my sales rep placed it in my hands. I am a happily married lesbian and this person was a highly serving member of the Westboro Baptist Church who condemned me to a life in hell and prayed for my death. Did I really want to re-live that venom? I am so very glad that I did. You know how they say, walk a mile in someone else's shoes. That is what this book did for me. Yes, I had to re-live moments in history that I would rather not be exposed to again but understanding it from Megan's perspective helped to forgive. Being born and raised in this Church is what I imagine it is like to be indoctrinated into a cult is like, however Megan and her siblings had no choice. This is what they knew, all that they knew. To them, they were right and the world was wrong. Reading about Megan's life as an integral part of the Church and then starting to have doubts about the direction the Church was going reminded me that behind the venom was someone who loved her family immensely and believed with all her heart that her belief in the bible was the way to live. Watching her start to question their message and the way the Church was taken over by a more aggressive group of leaders showed us her human side. I will be honest, when she was leaving her family my heart broke and tears fell. We are all human, we all love our families with our whole heart. I cannot imagine what it would be like to make the choice that she was forced to make. I did find it a little disjointed at times, jumping forward and back. I also struggled to read so much bible verse, but understand that it was/is part of Megan's story. I congratulate her on taking such a brave step in leaving her family, her Church and in sharing with us her journey towards hope.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Becki

    This is not the first (or even the second!) book that I've read by someone who left Westboro Baptist Church. One thing that I've so appreciated about these books (and about THIS book, by Megan) is how the authors are able to show the multi-dimentionality of their lives. Neither Megan nor her family members are horrible people, nor are they blameless. They are- like all of us- humans who are somewhat flawed but trying their best to do what they think is right, sometimes with horribly painful resu This is not the first (or even the second!) book that I've read by someone who left Westboro Baptist Church. One thing that I've so appreciated about these books (and about THIS book, by Megan) is how the authors are able to show the multi-dimentionality of their lives. Neither Megan nor her family members are horrible people, nor are they blameless. They are- like all of us- humans who are somewhat flawed but trying their best to do what they think is right, sometimes with horribly painful results. Megan does a great job of speaking transparently to that quandary. This book, uniquely, is filled with KJV scriptures running like a constant commentary throughout Megan's life, offering explanation for the inexplicable. Though the majority of the book centers on the lives of Megan and her immediate family during her time at Westboro, I was most interested in the story of her deconstruction- the first thoughts she had that were contrary to her teaching and how she worked through her beliefs after leaving. I do wish she had shared more about her current beliefs, though it may be that her beliefs are still in flux. She has interesting thoughts on political discourse in the Trump era, and I admire her desire to make a bridge for her WBC loved ones while expanding the idea of walking together, in spite of some disagreement. I wish her the absolute best in her efforts.... I received an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, which I am always happy to share. ;) #NetGalley #Unfollow

  14. 4 out of 5

    *Layali*

    Oh, my heart. I simply adored this, and I absolutely adore Megan. Review to come. I received an ARC from the author. Megan is a dear friend of mine, so my views might be slightly biased. Please don’t let this keep you from reading this beautiful memoir.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dawn Michelle

    Oh. My. Gosh. Wow. Wow. Wow. I am not even sure HOW to review this book - there is just so much here. And much of it was NOT what I was expecting, though, to be honest, I don't really know just WHAT I WAS expecting. But it wasn't this. I wasn't expecting to relate to Megan. At all. Westboro is a crazytrain "church". Everyone knows that. But what I did not know is that amidst all the crazy-town stuff [the protests, the vulgar language, the hate] is a family [most of the congregation initially we Oh. My. Gosh. Wow. Wow. Wow. I am not even sure HOW to review this book - there is just so much here. And much of it was NOT what I was expecting, though, to be honest, I don't really know just WHAT I WAS expecting. But it wasn't this. I wasn't expecting to relate to Megan. At all. Westboro is a crazytrain "church". Everyone knows that. But what I did not know is that amidst all the crazy-town stuff [the protests, the vulgar language, the hate] is a family [most of the congregation initially were related - children and grandchildren of Fred Phelps] that is just steeped in scripture. And not just any scripture, but the King James Version of scripture. The very scripture I was steeped in as a child and teen and adult [until I moved away and realized I would NOT go to hell for reading a translation]. And that they know it better than I can ever think to know it. And their interpretation of it is how they justify the hateful rhetoric that they spew. And I was shocked to see how often what I grew up with jibed with what they were teaching and being taught and if I am being honest, this totally and completely has messed me up. It is never simple and easy to realize that what you have been taught your whole life might actually border on hate [pro-life rallies come to mind] and seclusion and an unwillingness to accept new people into the "fold" for fear of "contaminating" what was already there. I have spent much of this book in tears and deep reflection. And will continue to do so as I work out what needs to be worked out in my own life. And for that alone, I thank Megan Phelps-Roper for being brave and writing this book. She is one of the bravest people I will never have the privilege to meet. I wish her well as she continues to navigate this road of forgiveness, healing, finding who she truly is, what she truly believes and walks that road without most of her family. I cannot even imagine. This is a beautiful, brave, amazing and also, very hurtful book. She spares nothing in getting from where she came from to where she is at and that includes ALL of the hateful rhetoric that she regularly used to spew with great vengeance [in the name of God and love] - there WILL be moments that you will despair from the pure hate that is being written about. And there will be moments of despair as she and her sister decided to leave, when you realize that her family will vanish forever from her life. And just how heartbreaking that is. And that, no matter what she did, no one ever deserves that. She does not shy away from any of that, and when you are not in tears over the whole church issue, you will be in tears over the idea of losing your family forever. This book will stay with me for a very long time, as I too work out the struggle I have with the Church as a whole [which I myself left 4 year ago and have just reentered very reluctantly] and just what I believe. If you are up for all the emotions that this will evoke, than this book is absolutely for you. Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lena

    This book was hands down the most inspiring read ever for me. And I think anyone who lives in today's day and age can take away so much from this book. Not only when it comes to how to react and interact with hate groups and people of a different faith but the book also gives a deep insight on why structures like the Westboro Baptist Church can emerge and why people stay in them. Why these communities stick together so much. Why they exist. Also, this book made me incredibly emotional in the bes This book was hands down the most inspiring read ever for me. And I think anyone who lives in today's day and age can take away so much from this book. Not only when it comes to how to react and interact with hate groups and people of a different faith but the book also gives a deep insight on why structures like the Westboro Baptist Church can emerge and why people stay in them. Why these communities stick together so much. Why they exist. Also, this book made me incredibly emotional in the best way possible and moved me to my very core. I think no book has ever done that to me in such a substantial way. This book is extraordinarily well written, which is something that is not the case with many memoirs in my experience. Megan is clearly gifted and had a very good team of advisers writing this. The tale of her childhood and teen-years with the pickets, her first doubts, leaving the church and starting a new life is a making this book impossible to put down. Woven into this plot are all the questions of theology, the assessments on how humans in those communities work and it is very apparent that Megan has a brilliant brain that is able to put into words and explain the unexplainable. Her countless quotes of the KJV bible illustrate impressively how those bible texts got quite literally engraved into her skull and seem to pop out randomly when she thinks about things because they are just still ever so present in her head. At many points in this book I had one word pop into my head. "Lovestory". This book is a love story. It is about the strong bond of love between sisters, the love passed down between family members, love between virtual strangers, love shown by complete strangers, and love of the past. I could go on and on about all that this book has moved in me and what it taught me and how brilliant it was written but what I really want to do is giving this book to anyone I know and "gently force them to read it". :D This book is sowing so much hope for a future in which people (offline and online) show more kindness to one another and that this will make the world more kind as a whole.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Gaby Butterfield

    A very high 4 stars for me (more like 9/10). I’ve followed this family with interest for several years via Louis Theroux’s documentaries and was fascinated to hear Megan’s account of inside and then outside the ‘church’. I knew I’d be appalled at their beliefs and behaviour, but I was aghast at the brain-washing and gas-lighting that occurred (and guessing still does). Although I had a free book to review of this, I chose to listen to it audibly and it was narrated by Megan herself, which made i A very high 4 stars for me (more like 9/10). I’ve followed this family with interest for several years via Louis Theroux’s documentaries and was fascinated to hear Megan’s account of inside and then outside the ‘church’. I knew I’d be appalled at their beliefs and behaviour, but I was aghast at the brain-washing and gas-lighting that occurred (and guessing still does). Although I had a free book to review of this, I chose to listen to it audibly and it was narrated by Megan herself, which made it all the more personal and powerful to me. Very impressed at her choice to speak out and make positive connections; showing genuine love in the world, not the twisted version she was once destined to follow.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Charissa

    The subtitle provides the perfect summary of Megan Phelps-Roper’s new memoir, Unfollow. This book gifted me with the most complete, most human, picture I’ve ever had of the Westboro Baptist Church—the church in which Megan, beloved granddaughter of Pastor Fred Phelps, grew up. It is a well-crafted description of Megan’s formative years, her devotion to her family and church, and how the very values she was raised to cherish eventually led her away from both. There were moments I was sick to my s The subtitle provides the perfect summary of Megan Phelps-Roper’s new memoir, Unfollow. This book gifted me with the most complete, most human, picture I’ve ever had of the Westboro Baptist Church—the church in which Megan, beloved granddaughter of Pastor Fred Phelps, grew up. It is a well-crafted description of Megan’s formative years, her devotion to her family and church, and how the very values she was raised to cherish eventually led her away from both. There were moments I was sick to my stomach at the truly vile actions Westboro members took. Yet the book forced me to hold, uncomfortably, the complex nature of humanity. Many of us are familiar with the experience of having loved ones who are incredibly dear to us who, at the same time, contain depths of cruelty that we are not blind to. But I’m a sucker for tales of transformation, and Megan’s story, both written and lived, makes me optimistic. Real, deep personal change is the process of a lifetime, and I like to hold out hope for even the worst of us. The chapter on her grandfather’s last days broke my heart wide open. Part of me believes in something like karma as well. When Megan experienced the most profound rejection of her lifetime, she was forced to come face-to-face with the reality lived by those she had hurled vicious words at her entire life—the LGBT community. Their response to her “coming out” can only be described as divine. It was a book that only a Westboro insider could write. I’m so grateful she has chosen to take her experience and turn it into a public discussion of extremism and the dangers of silencing dissent. This book is definitely joining my list of top reads for 2019.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Alisa Harris

    How does an unshakable belief system finally fall apart? Megan Phelps-Roper is intelligent, well-read, raised in a loving family and in a community where everyone helps each other, oh and where they also celebrate AIDS as a punishment for homosexuality and they protest soldiers’ funerals every week with signs that say “More Dead Soldiers.” Megan goes to public school and protests outside it during the lunch hour, then goes back in to join her classmates and finish the school day. She’s completel How does an unshakable belief system finally fall apart? Megan Phelps-Roper is intelligent, well-read, raised in a loving family and in a community where everyone helps each other, oh and where they also celebrate AIDS as a punishment for homosexuality and they protest soldiers’ funerals every week with signs that say “More Dead Soldiers.” Megan goes to public school and protests outside it during the lunch hour, then goes back in to join her classmates and finish the school day. She’s completely committed, on message, unquestioning, and devoting her life to the cause. Then she gets on Twitter and starts having some conversations with people who actually listen and actually talk to her. After she makes her escape (which is beautifully and heartbreakingly told) one of those people, now a dear friend, tells her, “In a way, leaving Westboro Baptist Church was the most Westboro Baptist Church thing you could have done. They’re the ones who taught you to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what it cost you. THEY taught you that. They just never imagined you’d be standing up to them.” That rings deeply true to me from my own experience, and it gets at the heart of this complicated story. Megan doesn’t shy away from any of the complexity of her story— she’s learned to embrace humility, doubt, and questioning— and that makes the story so compelling. At heart it’s a book about the need to let people in, listen to them, and talk to them like human beings even when you disagree. That’s what changed Megan in the end. It’s something I used to do and believe in more, in the pre-Trump world, and it’s a lesson I personally needed to hear.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    You know when a book involves religion that I am going to start my review with a caveat: my experience with this book was incredibly specific to my own history, brought up in a conservative patriarchal religion that I eventually left after a difficult internal struggle. It was probably the biggest thing that ever happened to me but it was an incredibly lonely and isolating experience. Even so many years later when I've had the opportunity to talk to many people with similar experiences, I don't You know when a book involves religion that I am going to start my review with a caveat: my experience with this book was incredibly specific to my own history, brought up in a conservative patriarchal religion that I eventually left after a difficult internal struggle. It was probably the biggest thing that ever happened to me but it was an incredibly lonely and isolating experience. Even so many years later when I've had the opportunity to talk to many people with similar experiences, I don't always find we have much in common. It can be a very vast spectrum. I certainly would not have expected to relate to the experience of Megan Phelps-Roper, as I am very familiar with the abhorrent activities of the Westboro Baptist Church. And yet, I cannot think of any other book I have read or story I have heard that hit me so hard. I cried. A lot. I was often overcome with emotion and memories of my own pain. That Phelps-Roper is able to do this is a testament to how thoughtful and clear this book is, far beyond what I could have imagined. Even if you haven't had this kind of experience, I think Phelps-Roper expertly walks the line of giving you a full, complete picture of her life both inside and outside of the church. This is something not many people are able to do, they cannot portray a place and culture with empathy after they leave it behind, but she remains clear-eyed. She can describe abuse and mistreatment but she also describes everyone, even her grandfather Fred Phelps, WBC's leader and the man behind so many of their awful policies, with deep affection and care. As much as you want to villainize the members of WBC, Phelps-Roper insists on portraying them as the people she grew up loving and still loves. Her journey out of the church is little by little and then all at once (mine was also like that) and because WBC is so extreme, nearly every reader will be relieved as she starts to question and reject their teachings. I also related deeply to her search after leaving WBC for a new personal belief system, another truly difficult and lonely experience. That she is able to write about these experiences with such insight and thought only 7 years later is astounding. Often in memoir people try to tell a traumatic story like this too early before they can really see it. There are occasional glimpses of this but just whispers, and she wisely keeps those out of the spotlight. One of the most affecting books I've ever read, and one of the few books that can really explain an extreme religion. A good companion to Leah Remini's TROUBLEMAKER, less funny but more fulfilling. A note for queer readers: this book contains many many many many uses of the f-word. So many.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Misti

    As granddaughter of the pastor and founder of Westboro Baptist church, Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in a warm and loving extended family . . . who went out every day to picket various functions and organizations, hurling invective and carrying signs that the vast majority of people find extraordinarily offensive. As she grows from a teen to a young adult, Phelps-Roper becomes her mother's right hand in her work with the organization, and one of the most prominent social media voices in Westboro. H As granddaughter of the pastor and founder of Westboro Baptist church, Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in a warm and loving extended family . . . who went out every day to picket various functions and organizations, hurling invective and carrying signs that the vast majority of people find extraordinarily offensive. As she grows from a teen to a young adult, Phelps-Roper becomes her mother's right hand in her work with the organization, and one of the most prominent social media voices in Westboro. However, as the church leadership shifts, she starts questioning everything she's ever been taught. A secret online conversation with a kind, patient lawyer makes her wonder: what if she were to leave? I found this hard reading, especially some of the descriptions of the abhorrent things done and said by Westboro members, and Phelps-Roper herself prior to leaving the church. It also felt like Westboro was reading an entirely different Bible from the one I grew up reading. I feel that Phelps-Roper does a good job of showing the brainwashing that takes place, as well as her complicated feelings of affection for her family, even as she becomes convinced that what they are doing is wrong. As someone who converted from an Evangelical denomination to the Eastern Orthodox Church in college, I could sympathize with some of Phelps-Roper's experiences, though mine were in every way more gentle. I would have liked to see a little bit more about the romance between Phelps-Roper and the lawyer, whom she eventually marries -- I'll admit, the age difference between them squicks me out just a little -- and a little bit more of her life after Westboro. Still, a great read, especially if (like me) you've ever wondered how a group that's purportedly "Christian" could spew such hatred.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    I don't know what I can say about this book without sounding trite, but I will try. If you don't know, Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, famous for their hateful anti-gay and American military funeral protests. Megan and her sister left the church in 2012. "Unfollow" is her account of how she was raised in a loving, nurturing environment that taught that everyone else was a dinner bound for hell, and it was their job to run their faces in it. The I don't know what I can say about this book without sounding trite, but I will try. If you don't know, Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, famous for their hateful anti-gay and American military funeral protests. Megan and her sister left the church in 2012. "Unfollow" is her account of how she was raised in a loving, nurturing environment that taught that everyone else was a dinner bound for hell, and it was their job to run their faces in it. The book details the doubts Megan began to have, how her thinking changed and how she had no choice but to leave the toxic web. She explains how much she still loves her family, and how she struggle to find a way to reach them and share with them how they are so sadly perverting the Word of God. Reading this book made me stop and think about any group that wants people to look at the world in a black and white, us vs. them mentality. What is their true agenda? For instance, is either of the political parties in the U.S. truly intending to tear down our systems? Or are they BOTH just afraid of something? I recommend this book to anyone who desires to open their hearts and minds to see things from the other person's perspective. I received this book free from Farrar, Strauss and Giroux in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Becki

    This is not the first (or even the second!) book that I've read by someone who left Westboro Baptist Church. One thing that I've so appreciated about these books (and about THIS book, by Megan) is how the authors are able to show the multi-dimentionality of their lives. Neither Megan nor her family members are horrible people, nor are they blameless. They are- like all of us- humans who are somewhat flawed but trying their best to do what they think is right, sometimes with horribly painful resu This is not the first (or even the second!) book that I've read by someone who left Westboro Baptist Church. One thing that I've so appreciated about these books (and about THIS book, by Megan) is how the authors are able to show the multi-dimentionality of their lives. Neither Megan nor her family members are horrible people, nor are they blameless. They are- like all of us- humans who are somewhat flawed but trying their best to do what they think is right, sometimes with horribly painful results. Megan does a great job of speaking transparently to that quandary. This book, uniquely, is filled with KJV scriptures running like a constant commentary throughout Megan's life, offering explanation for the inexplicable. Though the majority of the book centers on the lives of Megan and her immediate family during her time at Westboro, I was most interested in the story of her deconstruction- the first thoughts she had that were contrary to her teaching and how she worked through her beliefs after leaving. I do wish she had shared more about her current beliefs, though it may be that her beliefs are still in flux. She has interesting thoughts on political discourse in the Trump era, and I admire her desire to make a bridge for her WBC loved ones while expanding the idea of walking together, in spite of some disagreement. I wish her the absolute best in her efforts....

  24. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    This is a powerful memoir. I was a reporter in Missouri during Westboro’s heyday and I remember the news releases the church would send regularly. I couldn’t understand their hatred. Most of their threats to attend a funeral or a meeting or something to protest never happened, but they stirred up the community anyway, so I suppose it was mission accomplished for them. Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in love by her family and a strict doctrine of “We’re right, everyone else is wrong” by her church. This is a powerful memoir. I was a reporter in Missouri during Westboro’s heyday and I remember the news releases the church would send regularly. I couldn’t understand their hatred. Most of their threats to attend a funeral or a meeting or something to protest never happened, but they stirred up the community anyway, so I suppose it was mission accomplished for them. Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in love by her family and a strict doctrine of “We’re right, everyone else is wrong” by her church. When she begins to questions her belief, she knows that to give up one (church), she loses the other — her beloved family. In many ways, reading Unfollow was like Tara Westover’s Educated. To an outsider, it’s all “They’re terrible! Why did you stay?” We don’t see them as family. The strength Megan shows to not only leave everything she’s ever known, but to not shy away from past actions or place blame, but apologize and try to learn more, to do and be better, is admirable and inspiring. No one needs to #savemegan. She’ll save herself. **I received an advanced digital copy of this book from NetGalley for my fair and unbiased review.**

  25. 5 out of 5

    Julia Dewolf

    She resists the bible a lot. A story about leaving a cult church. Author recounts the story very well of what happened as she left the church. However I was also interested in her present day, where she is now. How she’s making life work now. I had to do my own research to find out where she was and what she’s up to. I would have loved to know more about where her parents and other children are now. Maybe less about the details of then and less bible verses recited to us and more about emot She resists the bible a lot. A story about leaving a cult church. Author recounts the story very well of what happened as she left the church. However I was also interested in her present day, where she is now. How she’s making life work now. I had to do my own research to find out where she was and what she’s up to. I would have loved to know more about where her parents and other children are now. Maybe less about the details of then and less bible verses recited to us and more about emotional of where they are now? Also who’s in charge now of that church? Does it still thrive? I don’t feel she tied up loose ends well. Anyway. Interesting read. Sad to understand more there are cults that interpret the bible with such cruelty to its members and others.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    I see a lot of memoirs that get called “the next EDUCATED” these days, with a lot of breathless hyperbole attached. UNFOLLOW is it, no hyperbole. Megan Phelps-Roper’s grappling with her unorthodox family, her faith, and the world at large (through Twitter, no less) is undoubtedly her own, specific and unique but full of insight that can shake any reader. This is the surprise memoir of the year for me, a beautiful and intelligent piece of life writing that comes to grips with the modern world and I see a lot of memoirs that get called “the next EDUCATED” these days, with a lot of breathless hyperbole attached. UNFOLLOW is it, no hyperbole. Megan Phelps-Roper’s grappling with her unorthodox family, her faith, and the world at large (through Twitter, no less) is undoubtedly her own, specific and unique but full of insight that can shake any reader. This is the surprise memoir of the year for me, a beautiful and intelligent piece of life writing that comes to grips with the modern world and finds true grace.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elvina Zafril

    Megan shows me the struggle she had to understand herself, her family and what she learned about her family and people in her world. I’ve learned so many things especially what it means to love and to lose and what it means to HOPE. The end of chapter 7: Ye Shall Be Judged was emotional to me. I don’t have any experience about losing someone because they died. But I feel losing someone who still alive is even more painful. Not so sure but that’s how I feel right now. I woul Megan shows me the struggle she had to understand herself, her family and what she learned about her family and people in her world. I’ve learned so many things especially what it means to love and to lose and what it means to HOPE. The end of chapter 7: Ye Shall Be Judged was emotional to me. I don’t have any experience about losing someone because they died. But I feel losing someone who still alive is even more painful. Not so sure but that’s how I feel right now. I would like to thank Pansing @definitelybooks for sending me a copy of Unfollow in return for an honest review. This book is available in all good bookstores.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    A powerful book. Parts are hard to read because she makes it so clear how the Westboro group justified everything they did with scripture completely missing the logic of alternate interpretations. How could intelligent people be so taken in?! The rigidity and total domination of group members is frightening. I am SO GLAD that she and several of her siblings were able to escape from that tangled web. A clear tale of religion gone BAD!

  29. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    I will submit a full review after I read it but I’m excited to obtain and read this book. Megan and her family live where I grew up and I still have ties to the community. I’m exited I won a copy (shocked honestly due to the amount of people who signed up) and look forward to reading and submitting a review. Thanks to Megan, her publisher, and GoodReads for sponsoring this giveaway. I look forward to receiving my copy and will write a full review once I’ve read the book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    A fascinating book that follows a young woman's journey from growing up in a cult to breaking free and awakening to the world outside. Megan Phelps-Roper grew up as a golden child within her family's infamous Westboro Baptist Church, protesting since childhood and gleefully snarking on Twitter to anyone and everyone. Until one day, her church turned on her own family and she realized, as she says in the book: "It was as if we were finally doing to ourselves what we had been doing to others - for A fascinating book that follows a young woman's journey from growing up in a cult to breaking free and awakening to the world outside. Megan Phelps-Roper grew up as a golden child within her family's infamous Westboro Baptist Church, protesting since childhood and gleefully snarking on Twitter to anyone and everyone. Until one day, her church turned on her own family and she realized, as she says in the book: "It was as if we were finally doing to ourselves what we had been doing to others - for over twenty years." It's a sad but often true fact of life that people don't have empathy for others until they experience something themselves, but at least Megan finally did, was finally able to put herself in the shoes of those her family and her church viciously attack (to this day). It took real courage for her to leave behind her family, her home and the only life she'd ever known; to unflinchingly examine the beliefs that had been drilled into her since birth, and to come to her own conclusions about what is true, what is right, what is honorable. Add to this the fact that Megan is a fantastic writer, and this book is a real winner.

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