Minor Prophets by Jimmy Cajoleas

“Life is not lived in shoulds.”

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Lee has always seen visions: cats that his mother promises aren’t really there, a homeless man who he’s convinced is out to get him, and three men who give him ominous warnings in the woods. His mother and his sister Murphy try to keep him grounded in the real world. But when his mother dies in a car accident and her horrible husband tries to adopt them, Lee and Murphy flee to their grandmother’s ranch, which they’ve only heard about in stories. But is there a reason why their mother never brought them there? And what horrid truths lurk behind Lee’s haunting visions? Thrilling, twisty, and poignant, Minor Prophets will keep readers guessing until the final page.

DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.



CW: loss of a loved one, car crash, animal death, gore, smoking, domestic abuse, child abuse, body horror, nudity, self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide, alcoholism, underage drinking, violence (including gun violence)

Maybe, with a little more care, Minor Prophets could have been a better book. I was definitely intrigued by the premise, which seemed to promise murder mystery and fantasy in the same breath, and I do love a good story about characters choosing family that’s best for them rather than family that would treat them poorly.

And in some ways, I did get that. A question lingers over the death of Lee and Murphy’s mother, one that takes the span of the novel to solve. Meanwhile, Lee in particular goes through a tumultuous journey of understanding what family means to him, what it means to him to be loved and accepted and cherished, and what forms that can take. Toss in the workings of a utopic cult, a hint of magic in an otherwise normal world, and the pressure of a small town, and you end up with Minor Prophets.

The problem is that you also have to add failure to interrogate power systems, flat characters, and an incredibly weak take on abuse.

Starting with the characters is easiest, since it doesn’t require spoilers in any shape, not even the vague kind. Unfortunately, no one beyond Lee, the first person narrator, really has any outstanding dimension to them. Murphy, his sister, is the rough and tumble gruff girl. Grandma is a spiritual, stubborn old woman set in her ways. The townsfolk are just bare sketches, caricatures of what could have been actual people inhabiting the town of Benign. Overall, it makes for a novel where Lee rambles on at length, and the reader can’t bring themself to properly care about anyone at all. The supporting cast is too flat, and the main character too self-absorbed (and too self-pitying rather than proactive, in a lot of cases, it felt like).

When you couple flat characters with power structures like the ones that emerge in the latter part of Minor Prophets, you end up with characters you don’t care for possessing power you don’t think they should have, and it doesn’t go well. Keeping spoilers to a minimum, I found that Lee’s ultimate role in the book went straight to his head, and the last twenty-odd pages were full of internal “did I do the right thing” questions in order to pretend that there was any significant growth. I didn’t see much change in character behavior, though, especially where I think it should have counted, in the relationship between Lee and Murphy (especially given what they learned about their own mother’s familial relationships).

And to cap off family relationships, I’m incredibly irritated that this book gave us an on-the-page abuser (just because it wasn’t physical abuse doesn’t mean it wasn’t emotional abuse; throwing out your child’s possessions and destroying them is abuse, and treating them like less than dirt is also abuse), and then proceeded to justify his actions because he loved Lee and Murphy’s mother.

I’ve seen a thousand apologies for Snape’s behavior because he loved Lily Potter, and I’ve hated every one because they don’t excuse the truly horrible things he did to her and her loved ones. This is a similar situation. The abusive character can say whatever he likes, but that doesn’t change the way he has treated Lee and Murphy, doesn’t change the way he treated their mother sometimes. And not only that, what the hell is up with your abusive character also being a product of abuse? That really doesn’t sit well with me at all.

I think Minor Prophets could have been good if it had one more thing in spades: nuance. As it stands, though, it felt two-dimensional at best, with only halfhearted attempts to flesh out characters and really explore the uses and abuses of power present in the story. Maybe the finished copy will be slightly improved by the time it comes out on September 10th, but I doubt this is a book I will purchase for myself or recommend to anyone I know.

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