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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 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 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 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

    Jenna

    "We behaved as if everyone in all the world were accountable to us, as if they all were steadfastly bound to obey our preaching—because we were the only ones who knew the true meaning of God’s Word. Presidents and kings, judges and governors... —all were subject to our understanding and our judgment. And all the while, we ourselves were accountable to no one..." ~Megan Phelps-Roper The Westboro Baptist Church is notorious for their invidious messages of hate, especially towards those in the LGBTQ "We behaved as if everyone in all the world were accountable to us, as if they all were steadfastly bound to obey our preaching—because we were the only ones who knew the true meaning of God’s Word. Presidents and kings, judges and governors... —all were subject to our understanding and our judgment. And all the while, we ourselves were accountable to no one..." ~Megan Phelps-Roper The Westboro Baptist Church is notorious for their invidious messages of hate, especially towards those in the LGBTQ community. They picket establishments that support gay rights; they picket funerals of soldiers killed in action (supposedly because they're fighting for a country that grants rights and (some) protection for LGBTQ citizens. They loudly proclaim their hatred in the name of their god.   Megan Phelps-Roger was raised in this church; her grandfather was Fred Phelps, founder and pastor of the church.  From a young age, she was given a sign, taught to sing songs of hatred and contempt, and planted on the picket line.  She and her siblings were indoctrinated into this insidious belief system but thankfully, as an adult, she finally allowed herself to question the church's beliefs, messages, and actions.  This book is her journey, from childhood in the church to adulthood outside it. I most enjoyed the first part of the book, learning about Megan's childhood, strange as it was.  Some of it is familiar to me, the crazy beliefs, the "special" status of thinking you and the people in your church are the only righteous people on earth and the only ones who know how to correctly interpret the bible and know what some god "really" wants.  The satisfaction the group feels by seeing themselves as martyrs simply because not everyone thinks the same way as they do.  Having to memorize entire chapters of the bible. Etc.  There were dissimilarities in our childhoods as well -- I was more sheltered from the rest of the world -- but those were some things I could identify with.  I can also identify with the process of gradually freeing oneself from such deep-rooted indoctrination.   Unfortunately, I found the book to be repetitive and slow.  The process of freeing oneself is a slow one and the questions that arise are repetitive, as one gradually allows oneself to question every more deeply.  Therefore, it makes sense that the book was slow and I should appreciate that more.  Still, I found myself at times longing for the book to reach its conclusion and I didn't find it intellectually stimulating.   Ms. Phelps-Roger is to be commended for her honesty and willingness to speak out against the dangerous belief system of the Westboro Baptist Church.  She was brave to leave it behind and embark on a life of her own, free of hatred for people who are "different" from her. I wish I enjoyed the book more and maybe if I was still in the questioning process, I would have found the book more interesting.  It's not a bad book, and it's well-written.  However, I think everything that needed to be said could have been said in half the length.  3 stars, though I wish I could grant it more.

  3. 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 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.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This is memoir 4 of my Non-fiction November memoir project. Unfollow chronicles Megan Phelps' journey out of the Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for anti-gay protests and general awfulness. Megan shows it from the inside (her grandfather started the church) and I think anyone interested in cults or extremism will learn a lot about the tactics used to make people behave in ways that seem so unforgivable, and also to understand the keys to helping them work their way out. As a person coming This is memoir 4 of my Non-fiction November memoir project. Unfollow chronicles Megan Phelps' journey out of the Westboro Baptist Church, notorious for anti-gay protests and general awfulness. Megan shows it from the inside (her grandfather started the church) and I think anyone interested in cults or extremism will learn a lot about the tactics used to make people behave in ways that seem so unforgivable, and also to understand the keys to helping them work their way out. As a person coming from a background of similar religious beliefs (if not the insular committee,) I sadly related to a lot of this, and some of her realizations resonated in ways I hadn't actually considered before. She likely has a long road ahead of her, still isolated from her family still in the church, and the almost 30 years of brainwashing that (trust me) surfaces in bizarre ways. Being raised in an extremist religion creates an internal running dialogue of doctrines and verses and teachings. Megan captures this experience in a way I've never been able to articulate. Her long mental journey out also comes with the realization that Westboro is not as unique as we want to believe it is, that extremism and hatred are on the rise, and I'm glad she is working to counter it from this point forward. I have ao many pages marked but read an ARC so feel I can't put them here. I am likely to buy it and reread it so check back. I had a copy of this book from FSG books through netgalley and it came out October 8, 2019.

  5. 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-Roper is a 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.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    “God hates fags.” If you know one thing about Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, it’s that this slogan plastered their signs and was part of their armory of in-your-face chants at nationwide protests. Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the Church, which was founded by her grandfather, Fred Phelps, and made up mostly of her extended family: Phelps had 13 children, and Phelps-Roper is one of 11. In 1989 Phelps learned that nearby Gage Park was a gay cruising spot and wrote in disgust to the “God hates fags.” If you know one thing about Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, it’s that this slogan plastered their signs and was part of their armory of in-your-face chants at nationwide protests. Megan Phelps-Roper grew up in the Church, which was founded by her grandfather, Fred Phelps, and made up mostly of her extended family: Phelps had 13 children, and Phelps-Roper is one of 11. In 1989 Phelps learned that nearby Gage Park was a gay cruising spot and wrote in disgust to the mayor and other city officials. In a sense, he never got over it. The anti-homosexuality message would become Westboro’s trademark, at least until the church started its picketing of military funerals after the Iraq War – which, like 9/11, was interpreted as being God’s just punishment of American immorality. By portraying it from the inside and recreating her shifting perspective from early childhood onwards, Phelps-Roper initially makes her extreme upbringing seem perfectly normal. After all, it’s the only thing she knew, and it never would have occurred to her that her family could be wrong. The Phelpses were fiercely intelligent and also ran a law firm, so it’s impossible to just dismiss them as redneck idiots. Frequent passages from the King James Bible appear in italics to echo the justifications the Church turned to for its beliefs and actions. Only gradually did doubts start to creep in for the author as various uncles and brothers left the church. Phelps-Roper was even the voice of Westboro on Twitter, but defending funeral protests became increasingly difficult for her. Two things brought her to a breaking point. First, in something of a coup, the Church appointed a new body of elders – all male, of course – who instituted ever more draconian rules, such as a dress code for women, and effectively removed her mother from leadership. (Ultimately, they would kick a dying Fred Phelps himself out of the church.) Secondly, the Church started to spread fake news via doctored photos. For example, they claimed to be protesting a royal wedding in London, when in fact Westboro members never go where the First Amendment can’t protect them. All along, Phelps-Roper had been corresponding with “C.G.,” an online acquaintance with whom she played Words with Friends. Chad gently encouraged her to ask why Westboro believed as it did, and to unpick rather than ignore any doctrines that didn’t make sense. “What if we’re wrong? What if this isn’t The Place led by God Himself? What if we’re just people?” she wondered. In November 2012, she and her sister Grace left the Church and the family home, where she’d lived until age 26, and retreated to a Deadwood, South Dakota Airbnb to hike, read and think about what they’d left behind and what came next. I’d just about had enough of Westboro and its infighting by that point in the book – the chapter about her leaving gets a little melodramatic – so, like the author, I was glad to move on to another setting and this interlude ended up being my favorite section. There’s much more I could say about this memoir, as the path out of fundamentalism is one I’ve taken, too, and the process of rebuilding a life outside it is ongoing for me, as it is for Phelps-Roper, who now lobbies for empathy across religious and political lines. The sense of a family divided is reminiscent of Tara Westover’s Educated, whose readership Unfollow is keen to secure. At points the book feels overlong (the chapters certainly are), but the good news for anyone who might feel reluctant to tackle it is that a film version is in the works, with a screenplay by Nick Hornby and Reese Witherspoon producing. Note: Westboro was the subject of a Louis Theroux documentary in 2006, and in a nice full-circle moment, he’s now interviewing Phelps-Roper on some of her UK book tour spots. And, in another lovely aside, she married C.G. Originally published, with images, on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Poppy

    Fantastic.

  8. 5 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 lot of what Megan had to say feel so terribly timely. We live in truly weird times. The internet is 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

  9. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    Megan Phelps-Roper was born into the Westboro Baptist Church. Normally, attending a Baptist church would be nothing special - that describes some 50 million people in America - but Westboro is set apart for its reputation as (in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center) "arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America". They're known for public protests with large, garish signs that hurl offensive zingers like "THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS", "YOU'RE GOING TO HELL", "GOD HATES Megan Phelps-Roper was born into the Westboro Baptist Church. Normally, attending a Baptist church would be nothing special - that describes some 50 million people in America - but Westboro is set apart for its reputation as (in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center) "arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America". They're known for public protests with large, garish signs that hurl offensive zingers like "THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS", "YOU'RE GOING TO HELL", "GOD HATES JEWS", or most famously, "GOD HATES FAGS". They've really leaned into the latter: their URL is godhatesfags.com. These are the kinds of Christians that most other Christians can point to and say, "That's too much. I'm not with them." Not only was Megan Phelps-Roper born into the congregation, but she is the granddaughter of the church's founder, Fred Phelps. One confounding fact shared in the book is that Phelps used to be a civil rights lawyer in the 60s. Most of the 80-or-so people in the congregation are members of his family: Phelps had 13 children, and Megan is one of 11 born to his daughter Shirley Phelps. It would be easy to assume they're all dumb, or inbred, but the family's intelligence is readily apparent and key to their success. It's what has allowed Westboro to win court cases (all the way to the Supreme Court, in which Megan's mother Shirley played a central role) and play the media and internet for press and notoriety. In Unfollow, Megan provides a look at what it's like to grow up in that atmosphere. The fear of hellfire is deeply ingrained. A girl's hair can never be cut, but men can't grow theirs long (what would Jesus do??). Skirt lengths are monitored. Nail polish can only be subtle, grandpa-Fred-approved shades. To avoid any appearance of evil, a young woman can't be alone with a man. You may attend a public school, but you'll spend your lunch break with your family picketing that school with signs. Vacations will be road trips to picket funerals, and you'll be overjoyed if you're chosen and trusted to participate. You're used to appearing on the evening news. Every argument has a clear resolution and prescribed restitution, with the loser identified as morally culpable. Bible verses are intensely memorized and woven into the fabric of conversations. Of course, the Westboro crowd has its own, idiosyncratic selection of verses that are emphasized above all others. The Bible is unerringly correct, straightforward, and Westboro is the only group that understands it correctly. It might as well have been written in the King James Version, because that's the only valid translation. They are deeply Calvinist, preaching a hardened form of predestination that leaves most people un-elect and invariably doomed to hellfire. Megan describes all of this, along with more human stories of love and affection, all without judgment. It would be easy to brush off the family's beliefs and practices as stupid or immoral, but she doesn't go there. There's a lot of compassion and unpacking of motives. This may sound perverse, but if what they believe is true... then they're doing the right thing. One can sense Megan's careful recognition that her family may someday read this account, and she doesn't want to turn them away or throw them under the bus. ** There be spoilers ahead ** As Megan becomes more involved in the family's affairs and [importantly] social media presence, we begin to see the tendrils of doubt that shift her perspective. On the Church's Twitter account, she finds clever ways to respond to critics, finding that positivity goes a long way to throw others off balance. In the process, she finds some detractors to be compassionate and decent, which similarly throws her off balance. (There's a lesson to be learned about engaging our ideological adversaries with kindness.) Megan begins an extended personal correspondence with a man, initially known only as CG, on Words With Friends. Who knew a phone-based Scrabble replica would be the primary battleground for her struggle with faith? She begins to flirt with dangerous questions, such as why does the church preaches the unreliability of "the heart" and yet point to the heart to justify its reliance upon the Bible? Or even more dangerous... does God even exist? Other factors add to these mounting questions. BBC documentarian Louis Theroux, who profiles the family multiple times, grows close to the family, and expresses his concerns. A major reorganization within the church's governance structure puts a group of men in charge of everyone's business, casting doubt on the church's biblical foundations. The new leaders censure Megan's mom, and even lie on social media about the protests. Megan finally confides in her younger sister Grace, and her trepidation to do so reminds me of so many tales from other high pressure groups. When Megan does finally leave, Grace joins her. The process is as painful and uncomfortable as one might expect. They aren't the first to have left the family, and other defectors have been painted as selfish, immoral reprobates. Megan wants desperately not to be seen that way, but knows there's no avoiding that portrayal. It's the only way the church can still claim infallibility. The story of Megan's post-Westboro transition is equally fascinating. Megan and Grace go to see their grandpa Fred, who the church has just marginalized and removed. They end up at the Airbnb of a Jehovah's Witness couple, which invites more questions of scriptural interpretation and emphasis. Megan and Grace learn that they have different goals and personalities, and must forge independent lives of their own. Megan struggles with the pieces of her identity and worldview; having to carefully determine what is still true and what is healthy, and probe just how to make amends for her previous public persona. She tries to meet up in the real world with her Words With Friends partner, and wants to see if her romantic interest is reciprocated. The entire story is beautifully told and filled with compassion, reflection, and depth. That signature Phelps intelligence is apparent and put to positive use in her writing. I took note of the casual, artful use of words such as concupiscence, dispositive, rapprochement, condign and recondite, which paints a funny picture of how those Westboro conversations must have gone. No wonder she did well in Words With Friends. This is a story filled with hope for our world: where there is kindness and concern for truth, people like Megan and Grace will break the molds of hate. You can hear it all in her own voice, and I recommend the audio version. If you want a sampling, you can watch Megan's fantastic TED Talk.

  10. 5 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 the coup 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. 5 out of 5

    Canadian

    Rating: 2.5–rounded up Phelps-Roper’s memoir tells of a young woman’s growing up in an extreme, cult-like, and bigoted Christian-fundamentalist church, also providing some general details about how she managed to break away. The book is too long by at least a third. Phelps-Roper includes lots of text messages, plenty of tears, and an excess of scriptural passages—a reader understands quickly enough that church members’ acts were based on literal interpretation of the Bible, and he does not Rating: 2.5–rounded up Phelps-Roper’s memoir tells of a young woman’s growing up in an extreme, cult-like, and bigoted Christian-fundamentalist church, also providing some general details about how she managed to break away. The book is too long by at least a third. Phelps-Roper includes lots of text messages, plenty of tears, and an excess of scriptural passages—a reader understands quickly enough that church members’ acts were based on literal interpretation of the Bible, and he does not require biblical verse after verse to get the point. The chapters are very long and occasionally tedious. While the book is not badly written, I can’t say I was unhappy to get to the end of it.

  12. 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 consider that 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 4 out of 5

    SheLovesThePages

    BOOK REVIEW UNFOLLOW by Megan Phelps-Roper -DESCRIPTION- This is a memoir by the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the infamous pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church. We get a view of the emergence of the church, Megan's childhood, and her eventual leaving. -THOUGHTS- 1. Wow. Just wow. Not only do I have such a huge respect for Megan, but it definitely makes me stop and remember that although many of us are sickened by the message of the WBC, that these are real people, who have been born into this ⛪BOOK REVIEW⛪ UNFOLLOW by Megan Phelps-Roper -DESCRIPTION- This is a memoir by the granddaughter of Fred Phelps, the infamous pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church. We get a view of the emergence of the church, Megan's childhood, and her eventual leaving. -THOUGHTS- 1. Wow. Just wow. Not only do I have such a huge respect for Megan, but it definitely makes me stop and remember that although many of us are sickened by the message of the WBC, that these are real people, who have been born into this religion...as most people are. 2. At first you may be annoyed by Megan's justification of the picketting, the villification of the counter protestors, and her blind allegiance...but trust me, it's all intentional. We are on this trip with her. The members of this church have things in common with most of us, as much as we wish they didn't. 3. Megan's writing is beautiful. I thought it was brilliant that she not only quotes the Bible throughout...but then once she has left, she starts quoting other literature. Her way of thinking is super spot on for me. I've had a similar realization with Christianity. -RATING- ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ I highly recommend this memoir. -SIMILAR RECOMMENDED READS- The Sound of Gravel Half Broken Horses Glass Castle

  15. 5 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're reblogging from is a Republican, 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.

  16. 4 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.

  17. 4 out of 5

    ❤️

    This book had me feeling things I did not expect to feel... I remember years ago watching Louis Theroux's two documentaries about the Westboro Baptist Church. Before that, I had no idea these people even existed. Watching the documentaries for that first time, I can remember feeling uncomfortable and intensely angry, and I remember even laughing at some moments because I just couldn't believe the nonsense coming out of these people's mouths. See, it's always been easy for me to dismiss and even This book had me feeling things I did not expect to feel... I remember years ago watching Louis Theroux's two documentaries about the Westboro Baptist Church. Before that, I had no idea these people even existed. Watching the documentaries for that first time, I can remember feeling uncomfortable and intensely angry, and I remember even laughing at some moments because I just couldn't believe the nonsense coming out of these people's mouths. See, it's always been easy for me to dismiss and even ridicule the highly religious. I grew up, for the most part, with a sense of having a choice in what my beliefs (religious and otherwise) were. I was baptized as a baby because my parents felt pressured by my mother's family, but other than that, religion was not something that had much of a place in my upbringing. However, when I was in middle school, while my father was dealing with depression and a severe workplace injury that led to addiction issues, he temporarily found god in the hopes that replacing his addiction for religion would be his cure. I remember him suddenly talking about Jesus all the time and the bible and bringing me Left Behind books in the hopes that I'd take on his newfound (though, ultimately, thankfully, short-lived) beliefs. But I never took to it. I'd been raised to be a curious child, a knowledge seeker, and an independent thinker. And I did think about what my dad was telling me, but it didn't sound right to me. It didn't make sense. And frankly, even as a twelve year old, I felt strongly about rejecting any type of god, any form of religion, and I was confused and upset that my father could fall victim to it (even if just temporarily). Having family who suffered through residential school at the hands of priests and nuns, my lack of belief didn't just come from the fact that I was genuinely skeptical of the existence of any type of higher power, but also from the resentment I felt due to the trauma I saw in my family and felt within myself which stemmed from government-sanctioned religious conversion. But I was a lucky girl. My family allowed me to discuss my feelings on religion openly with them, and my dad (who mellowed out on the whole Jesus thing and therefore didn't push me to believe in the god he was trying to believe in) eventually realized religion wasn't the answer he was looking for. And that was that. So, yeah, religion, nevermind religious fanaticism, has always been something I have freely rejected. And it was easy for me to dismiss the people behind these beliefs as simply being stupid. I didn't even remember that Megan, the eldest daughter of the Phelps-Roper children, had left the Westboro Baptist Church until I heard that this book was coming out this past autumn. Immediately, I put it on my list of books I wanted to read, and I started to read it as soon as I had a copy of it in my hands. Going into it, I assumed that I wouldn't have much of a reaction to her memoir aside from my previous emotions regarding Westboro. I went into it with a prejudice against Megan. Sure, I was glad that she'd left the church, but I judged her for having been a grown twenty-seven year old woman before she came to her senses. I questioned why it took her so long. I went into her book ignorant of the fact that I was judging her for that. I'm not a cold-hearted person though, so I anticipated feeling some kind of empathy for her, but I didn't expect to feel it in the way that I did, or that I'd come out of having turned the final page with the awareness that I started off the book without a true understanding of religious extremism at all and how it gets passed on through younger generations who know nothing else but those beliefs. Megan writes of her upbringing in the Westboro Baptist Church with an elegance and clarity that surprised me. Where one might expect her to justify or shift blame for her past actions (like protesting funerals and holding up the most vile of signs that I will not repeat here) or to even try to claim that she was always doubtful of her family and church's beliefs, she gracefully details her day to day life and her thought processes during her childhood, teenage years and early adulthood, explaining how she made sense of what had been taught to her. The fact is, Megan, like all of her siblings, were raised from birth with Westboro's crazy ideologies taught to her as fact. Since birth she had been, frankly, brainwashed. The fact that she was able to start asking questions and thinking for herself and to eventually have enough strength to leave is actually quite astounding. It's something, until reading her memoir, I didn't truly appreciate - in fact, I don't think I appreciated it at all. It was easy for me, someone who's always had a choice in her beliefs, to not have to consider how difficult breaking free of the sort of upbringing Megan had truly is. It's easy to think, initially, "why is it so hard to ask questions? Why is it so hard to see that this is wrong?" But you have to understand the enormity of the effects of religious extremism, brainwashing and, well, cults to recognize that that's not as simple of a question as you think. And yeah, it's hard to fully grasp that enormity. I still can't fully wrap my head around how people can come up with and believe some of the wackier religious beliefs they have. How they can so vehemently spew hate and abuse and then call it love on behalf of 'the one true god'. How they can say these things and do these things and live their lives by these words and rules and never ever question it. But through her words, I think Megan helped me to understand in a way that I am able to. At the very least, I sincerely empathize with what questioning her faith and coming to the realizations that she did must have felt like for her as someone who for all of her life didn't even realize that was an option or thought that even the tiniest niggling of doubt or curiosity would send her straight to hell. And I have an enormous amount of respect for the bravery she had when she first left and that she still carries with her today as she continues to take her story to the public and participates in discussions on how to mitigate religious extremism. There's nothing that she can do to take back the utterly hurtful things she said and did while still with Westboro, and there's only so much apologizing a person can do before it starts feeling overdone and meaningless. But using her platform the way she does shows me that she not only is a changed person but a good person. This is a memoir that is fascinating (in a multitude of ways), maddening and sad and eventually heartening. And it's eye-opening, also in a multitude of ways. Like me, you may not think that a book about the life of an ex-Westboro Baptist Church member could be both full of empathy and capable of making you feel empathy ('Westboro' and 'empathy' are usually not words that coexist in the same sentence). But it really is. The subject matter, which is Megan's life, is complex, but she expresses herself and her past with a writing style that is affecting and easy to fall into. I found this to be a beautiful, thoughtfully written memoir that is extremely timely and important. A strange choice, in some ways, I think, to kick off a new reading year, but I am grateful to have read it, and I'm sure it will stick with me for a long, long time.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Toni Kely-Brown

    I’ve always had an interest in the human construct of religion (particularly high control groups). Having really enjoyed Tara Westover’s Education (and this being compared to it), I was disappointed. Megan shares her story of being raised in the Westboro Baptist Church (one of those American fire-and-brimstone religions). She was indoctrinated from birth and sincerely believed she was spreading the truth of "God". She left the church (which meant her family and everything she ever knew) when she I’ve always had an interest in the human construct of religion (particularly high control groups). Having really enjoyed Tara Westover’s Education (and this being compared to it), I was disappointed. Megan shares her story of being raised in the Westboro Baptist Church (one of those American fire-and-brimstone religions). She was indoctrinated from birth and sincerely believed she was spreading the truth of "God". She left the church (which meant her family and everything she ever knew) when she was 26. Parts of this were good, but I felt overall it could have been edited tighter and it wasn’t a satisfying read. Whilst I understood the reason for including scripture, I found myself skipping it altogether after a while (it felt repetitive). I don’t feel I got real insight into why Megan was able to question everything she every knew, leave her church and her family and start a new life.

  19. 4 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 very interested in the book and didn’t 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

  20. 5 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 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.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    i remember megan’s story very vividly, from reading her incredible new yorker profile in the new yorker by adrian chen in 2015, which caught my memory and heart in the midst of all that was holding my fleeting attention in college. when i saw her new memoir at my bookstore recently, i knew i had to read it. i am moved by her courage in interrogating herself and beliefs and choosing her own. i devoured this on my flight to japan. she writes about the religion and indoctrination she was raised in i remember megan’s story very vividly, from reading her incredible new yorker profile in the new yorker by adrian chen in 2015, which caught my memory and heart in the midst of all that was holding my fleeting attention in college. when i saw her new memoir at my bookstore recently, i knew i had to read it. i am moved by her courage in interrogating herself and beliefs and choosing her own. i devoured this on my flight to japan. she writes about the religion and indoctrination she was raised in (specifically westboro baptist church), which consists of basically her family preaching hate, and her journey of leaving it all after being on twitter where she was open to talking to ppl who offered her grace and compassion despite her being in a religion spewing hate. little moments of contradictions supported by friendly discourse led to an unraveling of her strong beliefs for 26 years. she learned to change and challenge what she knew and it's all told so courageously! i appreciated how much context and foundation she provided to share with us how fervent of a follower she was. i personally didn’t care for any bible verses (which the first part of the book has lotsss of) but understood it as important for her foundational learning. regardless of if you care about the westboro church, it’s ultimately a universal book about how we learn what we learn and how to step into the uncertainty of everything beyond a confining black and white mindset, which can expand our compassion and understanding of others. especially in this time of magnified fear and hate facilitated by social media. i think really interesting also for ex-religion ppl to read in terms of the conflict of being raised in a set of precepts and values which creates a foundation of who you are vs searching for your own principles in the uncertainty of the gray area that is life :-) also, it’s pretty much a book on why we shouldn't cancel ppl and how we should treat others with different perspectives as ppl who are capable of improvement rather than to be punished. “Others with stories like mine have shown me repeatedly that the root of Westboro’s ideology—the idea that our beliefs were “the one true way”—is not by any means limited to Westboro members. In truth, that idea is common, widespread, and on display everywhere humans gather, from religious circles to political ones. It gives a comforting sense of certainty, freeing the believer from existential angst and providing a sense of stability—a foundation on which to build a life. But the costs of that certainty can be enormous and difficult to identify. Ultimately, the same quality that makes Westboro so easy to dismiss—its extremism—is also what helps highlight the destructive nature of viewing the world in black and white, the danger of becoming calcified in a position and impervious to change.”

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This is a really tender and emotional memoir by a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. By the time she was in her mid-twenties, Megan Phelps-Roper was one of the most public members of the church, and was regularly promoting their views on Twitter, gleefully arguing points of Scripture with others and throwing out insults. She believed wholeheartedly on what her grandfather taught at their church, that the Bible was absolute truth and the correct interpretation of it was one of a This is a really tender and emotional memoir by a former member of the Westboro Baptist Church. By the time she was in her mid-twenties, Megan Phelps-Roper was one of the most public members of the church, and was regularly promoting their views on Twitter, gleefully arguing points of Scripture with others and throwing out insults. She believed wholeheartedly on what her grandfather taught at their church, that the Bible was absolute truth and the correct interpretation of it was one of a vengeful, hateful god, and a world filled with mostly evil people except for a few predestined "elect". I always kind of thought of the church and its members as being similar to evangelicals with an extra helping of crazy, but learning about their dogma, I learned it's actually quite different on certain ways. Megan's upbringing included both happy and caring moments as well as moments of cruelty and abuse, but she makes clear that she still loves her family and has hope for them, even though they have excommunicated her. When she started communicating with people outside her family on Twitter, even as she was saying pretty vile things, some of the things that people who chose to engage with her said slowly started to break through, and she began to question what she had been taught. At the same time, there were changes happening within the leadership of the church, giving more power to a group of elders and demoting Megan's mother, Shirley Phelps-Roper, who had also long been one of he church's most visible and prominent members. The elders put in place rules that were far more sexist and oppressive to women than had previously existed. (Shirley felt like a bit of a Serena Joy figure, and I felt sorry for her in Megan's telling of what happened, even if I think she brought it on herself for contributing to this kind of organization.) As both of these issues cane to a head, Megan and her sister Grace left the church. This is a really lovely memoir, and I really enjoyed hearing about Megan's journey, both while she was still on the church and afterwards, when she came to learn through relationships with people outside her family that the world was not the evil place she had believed. She comes across as so gentle and kind, in her voice on this audiobook and in the TED talk she did. Given that, it's really striking to watch old videos of her from protests, where she's yelling about "fags" and "whores," but I'd encourage you to look them up to get a full picture of who she is--not to condemn her for her past, but I think it gives a sense of where she came from and the behaviors she'd been participating in since she was 5 years old that she had to overcome. I would highly recommend this memoir to anyone, especially if you're interested in people who've made big changes in their lives, dysfunctional families, or cults.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I remembered Megan Phelps-Roper from the BBC documentary, The Most Hated Family in America, so when I saw she left the church and wrote about it, I had to check it out. Although they suck, I was always fascinated with the WBC members. They weren't isolated on a compound; they lived in normal society with their kids going to public school, college, and even law school. They were educated and intellectual. It's just a different kind of story. Unfollow is mainly the story of Megan's 24 years in I remembered Megan Phelps-Roper from the BBC documentary, The Most Hated Family in America, so when I saw she left the church and wrote about it, I had to check it out. Although they suck, I was always fascinated with the WBC members. They weren't isolated on a compound; they lived in normal society with their kids going to public school, college, and even law school. They were educated and intellectual. It's just a different kind of story. Unfollow is mainly the story of Megan's 24 years in the Westboro Baptist Church, and the events that led up to her departure. She discusses how they were raised in mainstream culture. They listened to all of the same music and watched the same TV/movies as everyone else. So, how were they kept so deeply indoctrinated? It's a complex question that she explores at length. Her writing was really great and I enjoyed her extensive meditations on the whys and the hows of her radical upbringing. I did think the book was weighted far too heavily towards her time in WBC and we got very little about after she left. I hope that means she's writing another book because I was more interested in that. There was also a shitload of scripture, which was relevant, but for someone who doesn't believe in the bible that got boring and tedious. For anyone interested in the topic, I would recommend it. It definitely gives a lot of insight into how these groups form and remain in place.

  24. 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 would 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.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    As a card-carrying queer, I of course knew about Westboro; not through documentaries or twitter or thought pieces, but through posts from friends sharing news articles about people who scared them, people who hated us almost more than anything. I didn't really engage with anything further than that. I didn't know about the military funeral pickets, or the structure of the church, where it was, or anything. All I knew was they held signs that professed hatred of me and my friends and I went on As a card-carrying queer, I of course knew about Westboro; not through documentaries or twitter or thought pieces, but through posts from friends sharing news articles about people who scared them, people who hated us almost more than anything. I didn't really engage with anything further than that. I didn't know about the military funeral pickets, or the structure of the church, where it was, or anything. All I knew was they held signs that professed hatred of me and my friends and I went on with wariness and little else. So when I saw this book come in on the new shelf, I had to admit I was curious. What causes someone on the other side to think of people like me the way they did, that drives them to act the way they do? I picked up this book, mostly, because I was somewhat desperate to understand the driving force behind a hatred that scared me. I didn't come out of it understanding their beliefs anymore than I had, but I did understand a little more why they fought for them so badly. And I was floored by the absolute bravery of Ms. Phelps-Roper to make such an abrupt about-face, leaving behind everything she'd ever known and throwing herself essentially to the mercy of the public forum, which we all know is terrifying in and of itself. Well-written and heartfelt, this book is proof of great bravery and strength, and I think that while I'll never feel completely safe engaging the way that she does, her life did inspire me to feel more compassion towards even those who are angry and hateful, rather than a kneejerk decision to isolate.

  26. 5 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 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

  27. 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.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jen Coombes

    As someone who lived in Kansas City for several years (including years that are covered in this book) and worked as a journalist, I am and was well aware of WBC. Because most media agreed to a media embargo of WBC to detract from their practices around any media is good media I was not overly aware of Megan Phelps-Roper. I also grew up in a strongly religious household and thought I might be able to find some of her story familiar and intriguing. Intriguing it is, but I could not help but feel As someone who lived in Kansas City for several years (including years that are covered in this book) and worked as a journalist, I am and was well aware of WBC. Because most media agreed to a media embargo of WBC to detract from their practices around any media is good media I was not overly aware of Megan Phelps-Roper. I also grew up in a strongly religious household and thought I might be able to find some of her story familiar and intriguing. Intriguing it is, but I could not help but feel like this book needed a heavier handed editor that could have guided this story better. Phelps-Roper hits on the most impact and relevant information in the last 20% of her book. Helpful information regarding how her experience and the way WBC uses social media is now more prevalent in the discourses online, the success of an online culture that challenged her thinking through human interactions and conversations...all of the topics that would have been nice to have heard from the beginning or woven throughout are relegated to the end of this tale. Throughout the book she bounces back and forth rather confusingly through her timeline in a way that is not just hard to place but at times was distracting. I found it jarring to go back and forth trying to follow what is in her head clearly but as a reader is less obvious. Phelps-Roper chose to spend the majority of the book in a repetitive loop that highlights the scriptures the family lives by, the aggressive rules and abusive behaviors of an isolated family and the loving environment that they seem to cultivate despite the abuse. The stories were told from her point of view at the time with very little cracks in the pavement to reveal where her thinking diverted. In fact, I think Phelps-Roper leads the reader to initially believe that her desire to leave the community is initially due to a hostile takeover by elders and stricter rules. Her qualms about some of the more disturbing beliefs of this group are then revealed more and more as inconsistencies in the church's beliefs. She consistently balances between loving her family and struggling with how to love them while also seeking forgiveness from others that she has hurt. She writes of her worries in the book as well as her understanding that few will mourn her grandfather as she does and may even find that the end of his story is well earned. These moments of reflection seem raw and honest and very self conscious. Sadly, little of that is apparent until the end of this story when she is becoming de-programmed from her upbringing. The first three quarters of the book presents ideas that are supported by tons of biblical scriptures that often are placed in the middle of a thought. I found this tedious. I understand that she thought it was important to show what basis many of the practices came since the group follows the teachings of the Bible but it happened so much that at times I felt I was being preached at. In fact, it was not until I did some online research that I discovered she currently does not even believe in the Bible as more than a book. Additionally, the chapters were long and could have been broken up more to provide some breathing room. I think the repetition was more apparent because the chapters went too long under specific themes. My last pet peeve with this book was the constant retellings and affirmations from various characters in the book that Megan and members of her family are of such high intelligence. This could be stated one or two times but to dwell on it repeatedly just felt a bit much. I get it. You all are smart. Many of the family members are lawyers. The fact remains that highly intelligent people can still be incredibly ignorant. She does touch on this a bit but when the majority of the book vacillates between how loving the family is, how many times she cries over things that are happening (she cries a lot) and how intelligent everyone is...the true story here gets lost a bit. With this said, there are some really interesting reveals about what is essentially a cult in Topeka, Kansas. I found the insight into their ideology, the personal experiences that I was unaware of as contributing factors to the influence and brainwashing of members and the journey to finding her way out of the family very interesting. I wish there had been more focus on that part of her personal journey to a happier life and less on trying to affirm why she stayed for so long. She is incredibly brave for exiting from the group and I am sure entering society afterwards was not easy. She reveals some of that in this book. Her new life is still pretty fresh so perhaps we will see and hear more from Megan in the years to come. This book feels like part reveal and part attempt at asking for forgiveness while providing reasons (maybe excuses would be too harsh?) for why she supported antisemitic, hateful and homophobic rhetoric for years and years.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Gina

    Up until recently, my knowledge of Westboro Baptist Church (essentially the Phelps family cult) was limited to "those crazy people who picket funerals." As a practicing Baptist myself, it's common for someone to mention them when they find out my religious affiliation, which I then dismiseds as WBC isn't actually Baptist affiliated. A few years ago, I attended a military funeral where WBC protested, but instead of making me more curious it made me determined not to waste my time learning Up until recently, my knowledge of Westboro Baptist Church (essentially the Phelps family cult) was limited to "those crazy people who picket funerals." As a practicing Baptist myself, it's common for someone to mention them when they find out my religious affiliation, which I then dismiseds as WBC isn't actually Baptist affiliated. A few years ago, I attended a military funeral where WBC protested, but instead of making me more curious it made me determined not to waste my time learning anything about them. Very unlike me. Then, someone sent me the TED talk of Megan Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of WBC founder Fred Phelps and prominent church spokesperson. She left the church and her family at age 25, giving much credit to that decision to several people who engaged her on Twitter. That 15 minute talk made me curious in a way their screaming protests never did. This book, Megan's memoir of her life, leaving, and what came next, is a long expansion of that talk. It is well worth reading for so many reasons but two reasons immediately come to mind: 1. Humans are complex. We like to put them in a box with an easily readable label. Megan's details on her life and the WBC challenge those labels, and it is those who challenged her civilly who prompted her change...those who could accept her as both someone who liked Stephen King books and Words with Friends as much as someone who hates gays were those who got through. 2. If you've ever wondered why anyone in a bad situation doesn't "just leave", then this will bring the empathy. It wasn't just about leaving the church but her whole family, possibly never to speak to them again. It took months for she and her sister to leave once making the decision to do so as they tried to secretly copy photos, videos, and family information just in case. This is distinctly Megan's story of leaving her church, but the themes of change are universal. Highly recommend.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    Let me preface this with one statement. I HATE rating/reviewing memoirs. I feel like I'm rating their life and relevance. Everyone's story is important and worth being told. This rating and review are products of my own feelings, experiences, and ideas. The rating and review are not reflecting the author as a human, or downplaying her experiences and strife. Unfollow is exactly what the title claims to be. Megan Phelps-Roper is the granddaughter of the founder of Westboro Baptist Church. A church Let me preface this with one statement. I HATE rating/reviewing memoirs. I feel like I'm rating their life and relevance. Everyone's story is important and worth being told. This rating and review are products of my own feelings, experiences, and ideas. The rating and review are not reflecting the author as a human, or downplaying her experiences and strife. Unfollow is exactly what the title claims to be. Megan Phelps-Roper is the granddaughter of the founder of Westboro Baptist Church. A church who, through their vigilant picketing and slurs, has been widely considered a radical hate-group from the outside world. This book shares her earliest memories, picketing with her grandfather at 5 years-old, to recent times after her departure from the church. It follows her thoughts, developing ideas, family dynamic, daily life, religious devotion, and everything in between. Unfollow does not try to demonize Westboro, nor does it raise the church on a pedestal. Westboro is the setting, not the object of focus. Megan shares her experiences being raised around these ideas and actions, and how her experiences shaped her mentally over time. I truly enjoy delving into philosophy and psychology. Unfollow gives us both. I loved reading Megan's experiences and growing to understand (NOT condone!) Westboro's ideals. It was interesting to read about their community. What I found most intriguing though, was to get such an intimate understanding of Megan's particular experiences and all of her thoughts, especially when navigating the world outside of her childhood community. If you are intrigued by this similarly, I highly recommend this book. It's a coming-of-age like no other.

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