cover image Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church

Unfollow: A Memoir of Loving and Leaving the Westboro Baptist Church

Megan Phelps-Roper. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-27583-9

Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, charts her journey from childhood church devotee to adult skeptic in her excellent debut memoir. She explores her early years immersed in the insular community of her family’s church, a Kansas-based denomination known for picketing funerals of U.S. service members and widely decried as a hate group. Convinced by the church’s teachings about scripture and sin, Phelps-Roper recounts spending her adolescence calling America to repentance and defending the views of the Westboro Baptist Church vociferously on Twitter. But then, as a young adult, in part due to thoughtful interactions on Twitter where she spars with critics of her church but also “relished confounding expectations,” her faith begins to unravel. After she expresses her doubts, she is ostracized from her family. Phelps-Roper’s intelligence and compassion shine throughout with electric prose (“the foundation of it all was a belief that our hearts had led us true when they told us the Bible was the answer... our unreliable, desperately wicked, deceitful hearts), an eye for detail, and a near-encyclopedic knowledge of the Bible. She admirably explicates the worldview of the Westboro Baptist Church while humanizing its members, and recounts a classic coming-of-age story without resorting to cliché or condescending to her former self. For anyone interested in the power of rhetoric, belief, and family, Phelps-Roper’s powerful, empathetic memoir will be a must-read. (Oct.)