Young Adult, Contemporary, Thriller
Random House Books for Young Readers
August 6th, 2013
My local library
Appearances can be deceiving.
In the Community, life seems perfect. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Pioneer invited Lyla’s family to join his group and escape the evil in the world. They were happy to be chosen, happy to move away from New York and start over in such an idyllic gated community. Now seventeen, Lyla knows that Pioneer is more than just their charismatic leader, he is their prophet . . . but his visions have grown dark.
Lyla is a loyal member of the Community, but a chance encounter with an outsider boy has her questioning Pioneer, the Community—everything. And if there’s one thing not allowed in the Community, it’s doubt. Her family and friends are certain in their belief. Lyla wishes she could feel the same. As Pioneer begins to manipulate his flock toward disaster, the question remains: Will Lyla follow them over the edge?
If you’ve ever read about a cult and thought “how could people be so gullible/stupid to buy into that crap?”, reading this book will chill you to the bones. Because, basically, it answers that question in a fleshed-out way. The combination of a charismatic leader spreading fear (of the outside world) and compliments (to his flock, to curry favor) is effective. And although we know from the start that Pioneer is not to be trusted, it’s easy to see how he manipulates characters in the book, especially ones we like and may relate to.
The thriller part of this contemporary-set YA comes into play when the main character, Lyla, starts breaking away from the cult. And I have to say, my favorite part is the realism with which that’s tackled. This is not some sudden come-to-Jesus moment of epiphany and then she’s on the run (see: bad Hollywood blockbusters), it’s a slow game of do-I-trust-him-or-myself. And even while I was yelling at Lyla to do the self-preserving thing, the author did an excellent job of reminding me she’s a naive girl who has had her entire life dictated by this leader. Peppered into the chapter headers are fictional quotes from Pioneer, as well as real-life quotes from real-life cult leaders Charles Manson and Jim Jones, making it all the more chilling.
Although in places the pacing flagged, overall I found this story frighteningly believable. The side characters were trope-defying, which is always a breath of fresh air with contemporary YA stories: the rules-breaking/rules-following best friend; the wonderfully smitten boyfriend whose actions have no bearing on Lyla’s feelings (i.e. just because he’s nice doesn’t mean you owe him romance); the fear-paralyzed mother; the father who is ashamed but trying his best.
It bears noting that the audiobook was well done. I love when a narrator sounds age-appropriate and uses subtle changes in pitch and tone to differentiate characters. Also, when Lyla was yelling dialogue, so did the narrator- it made for a more engaging experience, but be warned, it can be startling.