Review: Troublemaker by Leah Remini

Mary’s review of Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini
Nonfiction by Ballantine Books on November 3, 2015

Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost.

That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.

Indoctrinated into the church as a child while living with her mother and sister in New York, Remini eventually moved to Los Angeles, where her dreams of becoming an actress and advancing Scientology’s causes grew increasingly intertwined. As an adult, she found the success she’d worked so hard for, and with it a prominent place in the hierarchy of celebrity Scientologists alongside people such as Tom Cruise, Scientology’s most high-profile adherent. Remini spent time directly with Cruise and was included among the guests at his 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes.

But when she began to raise questions about some of the church’s actions, she found herself a target. In the end, she was declared by the church to be a threat to their organization and therefore a “Suppressive Person,” and as a result, all of her fellow parishioners—including members of her own family—were told to disconnect from her. Forever.

Bold, brash, and bravely confessional, Troublemaker chronicles Leah Remini’s remarkable journey toward emotional and spiritual freedom, both for herself and for her family. This is a memoir designed to reveal the hard-won truths of a life lived honestly—from an author unafraid of the consequences.

This book piqued my interest for two reasons. The first, because it deals with Scientology. It’s a religion we hear about in the news, especially in connection with some famous actors and actresses. Two, because of Leah Remini. I wasn’t a huge fan of her most famous show, King of Queens, although I did watch a time or two. It was her reality show, Leah Remini: It’s all Relative I connected with. Her family is crazy in that loving, adorable way that makes it wonderfully wacky. I’ve had this book on my TBR pile for a while and it got lost in the shuffle of my Kindle. Recently, Leah’s documentary series on Scientology came out. I watched all of the episodes and they reminded me of the book. so I dusted it off and here we are…

The rumors and confusion swirling around Scientology has always seemed a mix of fact and fiction. I’m a religious person myself but I’m not unaware that some ideas within Christianity (specifically, in my case, Catholicism) from the outside looking in would appear extremely odd. (I mean, we literally believe the Eucharist becomes the body and blood of Jesus. Imagine trying to explain that. It’s not easy for other Christians to understand!) This isn’t an equation of the two religions – in fact I use religion with Scientology extremely loosely because it’s more like a cult. This is only to illustrate my openness to understanding that faith can and does require an intellectual leap. It is in fact, the very essence of belief. Leah’s experiences are from someone on the inside. She lived and believed Scientology for decades. I wanted to understand and learn about it from her point of view and went into this book with an open mind. As a result, the compassion I gained after reading this book for those who have left Scientology is overwhelming.

The descriptions of how Scientology is set up were interesting. Rarely is someone suddenly immersed in it. Scientology is something that creeps into your life until it takes over. Once it does, it’s extremely difficult to get out of it. Our ability as human beings to accept things, to live in denial, is exceptional. Even for someone as brash and bold as Leah – a natural contrarian. She experienced many instances of incomplete answers and accepted them as the truth. Much of it, in part, because she had dedicated time, money and herself to Scientology. Learning everything was a lie wasn’t something she was willing to face until, finally, it was.

Leah’s break with Scientology (by her own admission) was far easier than most. She always had friends who weren’t Scientologist. Her husband wasn’t fanatical about Scientology – he’d joined far later in life and considered it more of a tool than a full-on religion. Her extended family, including her sisters and mother, were having their own problems with the church. Plus, she had a job outside of Scientology and access to a whole host of support systems. This is not to demean the experiences Leah had, or to say that leaving Scientology wasn’t hard for her. I’m sure it was. But for others the experience is far, far worse…

Scientology aims to become your life. You dedicate yourself to studying it (at least two hours a day, seven days a week). These studies cost money – a lot. Your friends are Scientologists, you may work for a Scientologist, you are married to a Scientologist, your family members are Scientologists. And it is forbidden for you, as a member of Scientology, to have any contact with anyone labeled a SP or Suppressive Person.

Gaining the label of an SP can be very easy. Merely looking up information on the internet about Scientology can get you labeled an SP. Once that happens, you are cut off from everyone you know. Your family, your spouse, your children…it’s no wonder those within Scientology turn a blind eye and stay, even if they secretly have questions or doubts. They don’t want to run the risk of tearing their families apart. Leah didn’t begin researching Scientology until she had been a member for decades. Many of the alleged abuses committed by the church remain completely unknown to its members. Additionally, since most Scientologists are second generation, this is the only thing they have ever known. They are literally born into it. Scientology discourages school (most of the children in Scientology are home schooled) cutting off any way for the members to learn anything else. Scientology isolates the people that belong to it.

It’s easy to mock the celebrities that are a part of Scientology, but (as Leah points out) different rules apply to them. For the regular person, Scientology is their everything. I’m impressed by anyone who has left. The bravery associated with uprooting your life to such an extreme – not to mention what Scientology does to you if you are brazen enough to publicly speak out against it – is something to be celebrated. Many of those that have left lost everything, including contact with their children.

If you have a chance to read the book and/or watch Leah’s documentary, do it. The stories are both admirable and heartbreaking. They are survivors.

Grade: B

You can buy a copy of the book here.

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