"The world can be a pretty scary place to live. It's a lot less scary when there isn't so much of it open to you."
I remember borrowing Salvation and Suicide: An Interpretation of Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and Jonestown from our school library when I was in grade school. Perhaps it was our librarian's underhanded efforts to caution us against joining cults and the lessons of the 70's in general (because seriously, what didn't happen in the 70s?) but that book has put me off anything grape flavored for a while and gave me a new bogeyman: a man so charismatic and mesmerizing, he could charm me into killing myself to please him.
Cult books tend to draw me in with the creepy leader, their outrageous beliefs and way of life. Gated had all these and more, but what sets it apart for me is that it paid attention to the unexplored viewpoint of the flock: how perfectly sane people could follow the whims of a man who claim to have been told by the "Brethren" when the world will end. What driving force propelled them to leave their homes and live in a commune whose sole purpose is to await word when they would move into the hole that they dug in the ground to keep them safe when the earth reverses its rotation?
It's easier to observe and attribute this collective way of thinking as the idiosyncrasies of delusion when viewed from this distance. Because it's much too harrowing and heart-wrenching to accept that someone, or a group of someones, can be desperate and broken enough to look forward to the world ending than to endure another day of it. This book exhibits great depth and maturity by shedding some sympathetic logic, outside mutual psychosis, on the pain of people who have fallen victim to a democratically cruel world.
"Because giving up is easier than having to go back out there."
As a young adult book, I can't say this delivered anything new with its story. It feels like I've watched this in a made-for-TV film before, complete with a pool fight, a pet pony and the heroine's romantic conflict between her Intended and the boy from "outside" who introduced her to the world of Coke and Cheetos.
He's my Cheeto - bad for me, but now that I have a taste of him, I can't leave him alone.
Funny yes, but instead of giving relief from the tension, sat awkwardly with me for the kind of story it was delivering and the emotions it has already successfully elicited from me up to that point. The well-knit tension in the writing almost demands a more radical twist in the plotline: I was half-expecting Pioneer to be right and have the story take the wayward route of edgy, fucked-up dystopia that only made me feel a twinge of disappointment.
Looking back, Gated still suffers from a multitude of cliches the most evident being the innocent heroine who lacks some confidence but has the kind of curvy milkshake that brings the attractive boys in the yard and draws the cult leader's "special" attention. Seeing everything unravel through her POV was tolerable at best but she teeters so very close to the edge of my patience, especially in the early chapters.
But in all honesty, the tight, fast-paced storytelling won't really give you enough time to roll your eyes. Parker refuses to let you go, down to the last heartbreaking scene. You can feel the intensity gaining weight when the quotes at the beginning of each chapter shifts from biblical passages to quotes from Jim Jones and Charles Manson. And that's all the warning you'll be getting. Because I may have known where the story was going to go but the details on the how and the who still made me gasp and generated enough edge that I was nearly distracted from all of this book's faults and loop holes.
So if you're in the mood for something that's disturbing, heartbreaking and yes, a little bit depressing because seriously, the ending is anything but happy when you think of the ramifications this is a solid bet. The cover promises A Thriller by Amy Christine Parker… and it delivers exactly that.