This is one of those books that will make you uncomfortable from start to finish. In a good way.
Meet Lyla, a 17-year old girl living in a secluded 'Community' in the present day United States. Lyla is one of the most unique YA characters that I've met to date. Slut-shaming? Nope. Mary-Sue attitude? Nope. In fact, I kind of wanted to be her friend. Lyla has been living in Mandrodage Meadows (anagram for Armageddon Meadows), a gated community led by tyhe charismatic Pioneer, since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Being inside Lyla's head was a fascinating experience. Experiencing Pioneer's indoctrination techniques from her point of view, and the way he controls what information the Community has access to provided some real insight into how real world cults operate today. If the seed of doubt hadn't been planted in Lyla's head, I don't think she would have ever questioned Pioneer's motives.
Pioneer was as charismatic as he was creepy. He inspires devotion. Characters who lived outside of the community for the better part of their lives don't question what he tells them. His techniques to keep people in line are just sadistic and disgusting. But again, no one questions him because his influence has made them subservient. It just goes to show that anyone who is a charismatic leader can obtain a certain amount of power over people, especialy those who are vulnerable.
But it was really the atmosphere that made this book such a great read. I felt like I was on the edge of a cliff throughout the entire novel. The creepiest part was that I wasn't sure if Pioneer was telling the truth or not. Granted, some things were pretty obvious, like when he told the community that 3 very well known natural disasters had occurred within a week, but there was still this uncomfortable feeling that the apocalypse just might be coming.
My shock after reading this book had me giving it a 5-star rating, but now that I'm thinking about it a bit more, I'm dropping it to 4 stars. The reason is because I felt like some aspects of the story weren't tied up for my liking, especially surrounding Pioneer. I would have liked to have known more about his life and the psychology behind his belief in the Brethren. It would have really added more depth to the story, and also, I think, helped the characters move on and possibly overcome some aspects of their indoctrination.
Overall, an uncomfortable, creepy read with a realistic spin. I'll definitely be reading other books by this author.