[Journalist Zoe Quint] comes home to Guyana to finally try and heal after the loss of her husband and child, but her peace is interrupted by strange voices and chantings in the jungle. That is when she learns about the group of Americans living there. They are Peoples Temple, led by the charismatic Jim Jones, and seem to be there of their own accord. When Lucy, a terrified girl from this group, passes her a note, Zoe realizes everyone may not be present willingly. Determined to help, she decides to go inside “Jonestown” and try to help.
This powerful book takes a fresh look at Jonestown through the eyes of a Guyanese reporter, Zoe, and a Jonestown captive, Lucy. We look at the reality of Jonestown as not just a group of willing people who “drank Kool-aid,” but as prisoners, some of whom were killed before the mass suicide, and many who were poisoned against their will. We see desperate people trying to escape, and evil leaders determined to stop them. The jungle setting and its deadly beauty is brilliantly described by Sharon Maas, who is from Guyana and knows it inside and out. She does a masterful job of portraying the tactics of an evil and malicious cult and of putting faces on the victims and survivors through the character Lucy and others. The absolute crazy of Jim Jones flies off the page, but we learn that his was not the only malicious mind in the group, and we are shown more about those who helped him wield his iron fist. True crime meets Historical Thriller in this fictionalized story of the complete horror that was Peoples Temple.
I’m not sure how much is known here in the Netherlands about the Jonestown massacre of 1978. I learned of it during a course at university about modern religious movements. I was studying Religious Studies at the time and have always been interested in modern adaptations of existing religions. So when publisher Bookouture approached me to read and review The Girl From Jonestown, all I could do was say yes!
So what is the book about?
First, let me make clear that The Girl From Jonestown is a work of fiction. Yes, it is based upon a true story, but most of its characters are fictional. Zoe Quint is the main character, the heroine. She is a Guyanese journalist, who is staying with her aunt and uncle at a farm close to the Jonestown site.
After hearing stories about the people of Jonestown, the religious group Peoples Temple, and after running into two of them in the local store, Zoe is intrigued, obsessed even. It’s not only for a scoop, but also because one of the people she meets in the store makes known that she is in danger, that she needs help, that her name is Lucy and that someone should tell her mother. But not the American Embassy, because there are spies everywhere!
Zoe is torn between doing the right thing and trying to keep herself from becoming paranoid. She believes she needs the help of American officials, because what can she do all by herself? But Zoe is stronger than she thinks she is!
I really have to stop here, or I’d give away way too much of this thrilling story. Everyone who knows about Jonestown knows how that story ends: in mass suicide. But what about Zoe? Will she be able to help Lucy? You better read this book yourself to find out! It is written in a very readable style, turning it into a real page turner towards the end.
I do tend to get a bit nervous around historical fiction with a true story at its heart. Especially a relatively recent one like Jonestown, even though it’s more than 40 years ago already! I must admit I have never read anything by Sharon Maas before, but upon reading she is Guyanese herself, a sense of calm came over me. Who is better equipped to tell this story than someone who was actually in the country during the real events! And I have to say, Maas certainly did not let me down.
Of course she had to add some components to the story that weren’t part of the real Jonestown massacre. A book needs love, drama and yes, grief. Why? To make sure the reader can relate to the characters, but also to turn it from a history book into a novel. I don’t know enough about the real events to say what exactly is and isn’t based on the true story. For instance, in The Girl From Jonestown the true villain is Moira, but I can’t seem to locate her in history. Is this part of the story made up? And if so, what was Maas’ reasons for adding another villain next to the clearly unstable Reverend Jim Jones, after whom Jonestown was named? So Maas, when you read this, please let us know!
All in all, I really liked this book. I devoured it and it still has me thinking about it. Thinking about how easily influenced people are and how big the reach of someone like Jim Jones could be today using social media. Let’s hope something like the Jonestown massacre will never happen again!
I’m not sure whether I’ve been living under a rock for the last forty-odd years but I knew nothing about the Jonestown cult and the horrific things that went on there so when I read the synopsis for The Girl From Jonestown by Sharon Maas, I knew I needed to find out what had happened.
Inspired by actual events, Sharon Maas sympathetically retells the story of how the cult came about and what happened in the following few years. To say I was shocked to the core was an understatement. Few things shock me these days, but The Girl From Jonestown made me shudder and recoil and really just wonder how and why!
Our protagonist, Zoe, was determined to find out all about the noises she hears in the night. Other people just wanted to brush everything under the carpet and let people get on with their lives, regardless of right and wrong. I know this is true of people and places everywhere in the world, but looking the other way doesn’t always mean it’s the right thing to do.
Sharon Maas captures the entire story and tragic events brilliantly and with compassion. I was compelled to read as fast as my daily life would allow to discover an ending I sort of realised was going to happen, but not what happened to every character.
If you’ve got a strong stomach and you enjoy historical fiction based on facts, then I urge you to read The Girl From Jonestown. It’s a story that everyone should be aware of.