In Mandrodage Meadows, life seems perfect. The members of this isolated suburban community have thrived under Pioneer, the charismatic leader who saved them from their sad, damaged lives. Lyla Hamilton and her parents are original members of the flock. They moved here following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, looking to escape the evil in the world. Now seventeen, Lyla knows certain facts are not to be questioned:
Pioneer is her leader.
Will is her Intended.
The end of the world is near.
Like Noah before him, Pioneer has been told of the imminent destruction of humanity. He says his chosen must arm themselves to fight off the unchosen people, who will surely seek refuge in the compound’s underground fortress–the Silo.
Lyla loves her family and friends, but given the choice, she prefers painting to target practice. And lately she’d rather think about a certain boy outside the compound than plan for married life in the Silo with Will. But with the end of days drawing near, she will have to pick up a gun, take a side, and let everyone know where she stands.
This was a very well-written fictionalized story that takes a look into world of cult life. Lyla Hamilton was only a kid when her family moved to Mandrodage Meadows, and growing up in a faction like the one Pioneer has organized doesn’t phase her because it’s really all she’s known. The world is an evil place; after all, her older sister was kidnapped from in front of her house right before the terrorist attacks on 9/11. No one in safe. But there are a few chosen, and the Brethren have spoken to Pioneer to tell them who they are, bringing them all to Mandrodage Meadows to wait out the storm. They are the new Noah, and the Brethren will soon be unleashing Armageddon on the rest of the world, at which time the families in Mandrodage Meadows will move deep into the earth, into the Silo, where they’ll live for five years before coming back topside to begin the world of man again.
Sound familiar? It should, especially if you’ve read about Charles Manson or Jim Jones and their flocks that followed them. This novel crosses the two infamous cults to create a story that, though slow to start, increasingly becomes more intense as the story unfolds. The novel opens with target practice: Lyla, her intended, Will, her best friend, Maria, and her intended, Brian, are in the fields practicing with their rifles because, in just a few months, the end will come, and when it does, evildoers will come knocking on their doorstep, so they have to be ready. Or, at least that’s what Pioneer has told them ever since they were young, mold-able children. While Will, Marie, and Brian have no qualms about being the chosen and fighting for their loved ones, Lyla is different. She can’t stop imagining the wood cutouts are real people, and she doesn’t want to hurt anyone. From the very beginning, it’s easy for an outsider like me to see that Lyla and her family are part of a cult, even though they don’t believe it. And though Pioneer seems kind and caring in the beginning, it doesn’t take long for him to begin to show his sinister side.
One aspect that I really loved about this novel is that the characters were completely fleshed out and real. Even though the novel started very slowly and it took a while for me to really get into it, Parker takes this time to create vivid characters. The hate I harbor for Pioneer as he exacts punishments and cons the adults and teens around him–there are no children anymore as Pioneer selected very carefully when choosing his families so all the children would be roughly the same age to make marriage easier–is palpable, and though I’m no longer immersed in the pages, my blood-pressure still rises when I think of him. Thankfully, Pioneer has no interest in sexual relations with anyone in this story, so that aspect of cult life is not included in this novel, but his version of “intendeds,” matching up teens for marriage at 18, shows just how much hold he plans to exact in the next generation after emerging from the Silo in five years time.
Lyla was a complicated character. At 17, she knows what she’s supposed to do according to Pioneer’s teachings and her family’s insistence, but after meeting a young outsider her thoughts begin to probe the validity of it all. In the midst of all the sheep blindly following Pioneer, Lyla begins to struggle with herself as she knows her doubt will bring down evil among her people. She wants to follow and be good, but her conscience won’t allow it. And, While I really wanted to reach through the pages and shake her, at the same time, I completely understand her inability to choose what’s right because her teachings have taught her to trust no outsider and obey Pioneer unconditionally. It’s intense.
As the plot thickens and events bring Lyla closer to the truth, she has a huge decision to make, and I don’t envy her at all. While the choice may seem relatively easy on the outside, the consequences will be earth-shattering for everyone, and it is here that the novel really begins to pick up speed.
While much of the novel is predictable based on our knowledge of cult beliefs and brainwashing, Pioneer never ceased to amaze me and I feared very much for not only Lyla, but also the people within the faction as new evidence came to light. It ended with a bang and I really enjoyed it overall, so, should you have any curiosity about cults, this is definitely the novel for you. Four stars.
Random House Children’s Books has been extremely gracious in allowing me to read an ARC of this novel, via Netgalley, prior to its release on August 6, 2013.