Book Review // Counting the Cost

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Book Name: Counting the Cost (2023)
Author: Jill Duggar
◐ Genre: Memoir
◐ Pages: 287

◐ Synopsis (Goodreads):
For the first time, discover the unedited truth about the Duggars, the traditional Christian family that captivated the nation on TLC’s hit show 19 Kids and Counting. Jill Duggar and her husband Derick are finally ready to share their story, revealing the secrets, manipulation, and intimidation behind the show that remained hidden from their fans.

Jill and Derick knew a normal life wasn’t possible for them. As a star on the popular TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting , Jill grew up in front of viewers who were fascinated by her family’s way of life. She was the responsible, second daughter of Jim Bob and Michelle’s nineteen kids; always with a baby on her hip and happy to wear the modest ankle-length dresses with throat-high necklines. She didn’t protest the strict model of patriarchy that her family followed, which declares that men are superior, that women are expected to be wives and mothers and are discouraged from attaining a higher education, and that parental authority over their children continues well into adulthood, even once they are married.

But as Jill got older, married Derick, and they embarked on their own lives, the red flags became too obvious to ignore.

For as long as they could, Jill and Derick tried to be obedient family members—they weren’t willing to rock the boat. But now they’re raising a family of their own, and they’re done with the secrets. Thanks to time, tears, therapy, and blessings from God, they have the strength to share their journey. Theirs is a remarkable story of the power of the truth and is a moving example of how to find healing through honesty.

Recommended for anyone who is familiar with the Duggar’s story, or who can relate to growing up in an authoritarian, patriarchal household

Content Warning:
sexual abuse, emotional abuse, pedophilia, traumatic birth story, miscarriage

Review: 5/5 ⭐
The dedication in this book says what you need to know going into this book:

To those who have been harmed in the name of “religion.” To those who have suffered behind closed doors and have yet to find their voice.

To those who have begun to find their voice but may still be living in a season of isolation.

To those who like Esther of the Old Testament Bible story have courageously answered the call for “such a time as this” (Esther 4:14), and despite the backlash have now found their voice.

From victims and survivors, to strangers, family, and friends, this book is dedicated to you. May you all know that you are not alone. That your story, your voice, and your mental health matter.

I had never heard of the Duggar family until I came across the documentary, “Shiny Happy People.” When I heard Jill Duggar had an upcoming memoir, I kept my eye on it to learn more about how she broke away from the cycle of abuse and manipulation.

It did not disappoint.

In spite of the rather dramatic story of having grown up on television, dealing with a pedophilic brother, and being manipulated and emotionally abused by her father, Jill writes her memoir with remarkable gentleness. She doesn’t dramatise events of her life, though she very well could have. Rather, she simply shares her experience and feelings with truth and grace, not shying away from the real damage and pain she still carries.

While I did not grow up with such extreme Christian views, some of the Duggar’s values sounded all too familiar to me. In my family, the father was the head of the household, unquestioning obedience was required of us, and modesty (”purity”) held to the highest standard. Through my childhood and adolescence, purity culture ran rampant in traditional Christian households. As a girl, I was told to cover up so as to “serve your brothers in Christ” by not luring them into temptation with the way I dressed. Authority was not to be questioned, with “honour your father and mother” quoted at me constantly. I was considered under my parents’ authority until I married, after which my husband would have authority over me.

By preventing us from discussing anything controversial or sensitive with each other, the instruction not to “stir up contention among the brethren” became a tool for silence, for control, for guilt.

Jill Duggar

Purposefully or not, such an upbringing serves to create a culture of fear, of people-pleasing, and an inability to trust one’s own thoughts or decisions. It also cultivates an environment of secrecy, keeping abuse victims from speaking out, in order to not stir up contention among the brethren.

Jill’s book is a deconstruction of her faith, and she shares the fear that came with stepping away from her strict family’s teaching to stand on her own beliefs. For those who haven’t experienced such an upbringing, some things may seem silly; why should she be so afraid of being seen in pants that she hid from her own parents? Why did she have to agonise over a nose piercing, or the choice for how many kids to have, or whether it was “right” to send them to public school?

However, for anyone who has grown up under extreme authoritarianism, such seemingly small decisions are tantamount to outright rebellion, and can result in being cut off from your family or church community. Most people prefer to stay quiet rather than risk losing that circle of support, especially when it’s all they have.

She writes of the struggle between speaking up for herself and holding her parents accountable while still deeply loving them. Setting boundaries can be terrifying for people who have been taught not to disturb the “peace,” but Jill does so. She doesn’t do it perfectly, and openly admits to mistakes she and her husband made on their journey. In spite of severe backlash, she keeps trying to find her voice while seeking reconciliation with those who have harmed her.

Much of this book resonated with me due to some shared experiences. “Counting the Cost” is a personal, vulnerable look at patriarchy and feminism, at faith and finding your voice. There is no perfectly wrapped-up happy ending, but there is hope, and the courage to keep going. Jill’s strength and faith encourages me, and I hope it does you as well.

↠ Get your copy of Counting the Cost ↞
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I’d spent much of my life listening to IBLP teaching on the “umbrella of protection.” When I’d needed it most, it had failed me.

In the culture I had been raised in, questioning a parent’s authority was a very negative thing, and I hated the thought of rocking the boat like that. Nobody had ever done it before, but I was sure that if anyone did, the punishment would be severe, most likely resulting in effective banishment from the family.

It turns out that living with fearful thoughts is a lot like living with hornets and garter snakes. Once they find a way in, you can block as many holes as you like, but the struggle to keep them out will require constant vigilance. And when they do get in—which they will—the memory of all those previous attacks will make whatever you’re facing so much worse.

And just like drinking a piña colada on a date with my husband, God wasn’t angry with me. Muscle memory told me I was sinning, but common sense, long and deep conversations with Derick, as well as my own Bible study, prayer life, and conversations with other Christians told me that I was actually okay. It felt strange, but at twenty-seven years old, I was finally learning to build healthy relationships and have a healthier, less fear driven view of God. And I was realizing it was a whole lot harder to “walk the straight and narrow” Christian road and
live with balance than to fall to extremes.

After years of having to share almost every aspect of your life with a show, you crave privacy. If you keep quiet and try to hide away, people just spread more lies and rumors about you. If you defend yourself and try to set the record straight, criticized and deemed to be unworthy of privacy. It’s an impossible choice, and there isn’t a pain-free option.

You can recognize the beauty and happy parts of your story while also recognizing the more difficult parts. The two can coexist. The highs aren’t automatically erased or invalidated by the lows.

“Sometimes you have to be okay with other people not being okay with you. And you have to be okay with you not being okay too.”

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