I love cults! Sects and cults, totally my thing. I mean, I'll take Catholic nuns, Hasidic Jews, Mormons, or the Amish, but I'm also up for a juicy Scientologist, a Jonestown, or, in Gated, the good folks of Mandrodage Meadows.
Lyla and her family live in the Community, which is mostly a back-to-the-earth, simple-living group who follow their charismatic leader, Pioneer, and raise their own food in their gated community. Less widely known is the fact that they believe that the Brethren are going to destroy the Earth soon, but that the Community will survive this in their underground bunker and later be transported to a new world by these powerful Brethren. Pioneer communicates with them, so everything should be fine.
(Let me put in the disclaimer here, that I got this free for review from Netgalley.)
Straight-up YA here, with a definite high school target audience, and I respect that. This is really well-constructed; it's just what I want a book like this to be. The whole point is to get into Lyla's head and to really understand how these crazy beliefs can make sense to her. And you do--Pioneer is so loving, and her parents believe this (there's a really intense story about Lyla's kidnapped older sister and the panic of 9/11 to make even that more understandable), and all her friends do. Her family has been happy at Mandrodage Meadows, and her life is good, and if things are a little rigid and there's target practice and talk of the evil of outsiders, well, it really does seem perfectly natural.
Then Lyla meets an outsider boy, and she goes all gaga. This, too, is really well-handled--she doesn't do anything stupid (by my standards or her own), but she wants to, and this starts her thinking. And these small mental rebellions open the way for bigger ones, as the pressure increases from both inside and out.
It occurred to me to wish for a more emotionally complicated end game--no spoilers, but at the end of the book, the good guys/bad guys thing is very black and white. And I couldn't help thinking it would have been more messy and human if that had stayed gray all the way to the end, as it was so convincingly at the beginning. But if you think about Jonestown, and Koresh, and any number of other examples, you'll realize that a big, ugly meltdown isn't unrealistic or sensational. One kind of person starts a cult, and another kind joins one, and who's more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?
I'm not going to universally recommend this as a YA book that transcends its intended audience and should be read by everyone. But when I was a teenager, I would have gobbled this book up, and I'll admit that as an adult, I kind of did, too. It was a quick, fun read, with some good, thoughtful psychology going on, which is more than I can say for a lot of cult books. I'm really glad I picked this up.