Counting the Cost [Book]

Counting the Cost is a 2023 memoir written by Jill Duggar, with her husband, Derick Dillard, and Craig Borlase, a bestselling writer who specializes in assisting with the composition of memoirs. The book was published by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was the third major critique of the Duggar family released in 2023, preceded by sister Jinger Duggar Vuolo’s own memoir Becoming Free Indeed: My Story of Disentangling Faith from Fear and the four-part documentary series Shiny Happy People: Duggar Family Secrets, in which Jill Duggar had a major role.

As Jill writes in the prologue to her book, “One thing about growing up in the Duggar family, I saw a lot of bewilderment in a lot of different people’s eyes. Cameramen, journalists, everyday strangers in a store. There was always someone trying to figure out if we were real.” Her prologue ends with the words: “Soon, the bewilderment would be mine.”

Counting the Cost recounts Jill’s own upbringing in a family setting with parents she describes as being “as loving and fun and wonderful as any girl could hope for,” although with strict rules for dressing modestly and avoiding any movement that might be construed as dancing. Jill describes herself as eager to please and someone who idolizes her mother and expected her life to follow the same pattern laid down by her parents. However, her father, Jim Bob Duggar, decided that God meant for him to run for the U.S. Senate (according to Jill, he determined God’s will by flipping a coin three times), and although he does not win his campaign, he does attract national attention for his outsized, conservative family, which results in a series of documentaries about their family life that becomes a regular reality television show on TLC. Jim Bob described the television shows as first a “window of opportunity” to present their religious views to the nation, and then as a full-time ministry in which the whole family were engaged.

Although Jill is happy to take part in his so-called ministry, as she grows older, she begins to resent how the milestones of her life (especially her courting, engagement, marriage, and firstborn’s birth) become grist for TLC’s content mill. She also starts to realize how her marriage does not, in the eyes of Jim Bob, put her under her husband’s “umbrella,” as her father expects both Jill and Derick to continue participating in the show, even pushing them to leave behind their missionary work in El Salvador to do filming in the United States. In fact, her father insists that she is under contract, having tricked her into signing an extended contract on the day before her wedding.

Derick’s push for some accounting of the television show’s profit, of which Jill never saw any portion during her participation until she and her husband filed suit, combined with Jill’s slow move away from the theological worldview of Bill Gothard, which had defined so much of her life, results in an increased breach between Jill and her parents. Eventually, Derick and Jill are able to secure an unredacted copy of the original 2014 contract Jim Bob signed and conclude that he earned approximately $8 million over the course of the show, some of which he used to invest in real estate and buy a private plane.

Jill addresses the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of brother Josh only obliquely, although she does contrast her father’s efforts to protect Josh’s privacy with his eagerness for Jill to do a Fox News interview downplaying the abuse. However, she is unstinting in her criticism of the local officials who leaked the abuse report to In Touch magazine in 2015 and frustrated that her lawsuit against those officials was dismissed with reference to the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” She describes how the arrest of her brother Josh on charges of possessing child sex abuse materials brought up all the old trauma but that she was still willing to testify against him, describing him as “such a monster” and “a man unable to control himself, totally detached from the reality of how deeply he was hurting others.”

In the end, despite the pain caused by the rift with her parents, she concludes that the experience was worth it: “It was worth it to discover that standing up for myself or others isn’t a sin or an act of disobedience. It’s a mark of freedom, of self-respect, of dignity. In learning to treat myself more kindly, I am discovering that it’s possible to do the same for others as well.”

For additional information:
Blake, Meredith. “‘A Vehicle for Profit’: Jill Duggar Details Her Family’s Reality TV Finances in ‘Counting the Cost.” Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2023. (accessed November 14, 2023).

Duggar, Jill, with Derick Dillard and Craig Borlase. Counting the Cost: A Memoir. New York: Gallery Books, 2023.

Juzwiak, Rich. “In Spite of It All, Jill Duggar Portrays Her Dad Jim Bob as a Pretty Swell Guy in Memoir.” Jezebel, September 14, 2023. (accessed November 14, 2023).

Lancaster, Guy. “Newly Released Sisters’ Memoirs Reveal the Costs of Growing up Duggar.” Arkansas Times, October 8, 2023. (accessed November 14, 2023).

Williams, Mary Elizabeth. “‘Faith Is Weaponized’: Jill Duggar Dillard on How She Felt Controlled by Her Family.”, September 16, 2023. (accessed November 14, 2023).

Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas


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