Title: The Special Ones
Author: Em Bailey
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
Time taken to read: 4 days
Goodreads synopsis: A mysterious cult leader has complete control over Esther’s life…or does he? Esther is one of the Special Ones: four young spiritual guides who live under his protection in a remote farmhouse. The Special Ones are not allowed to leave, but why would they want to? They are safe from toxic modern life, safe from a meaningless existence, safe in their endless work. He watches them every moment of every day, ready to punish them if they forget who they are—and all the while, broadcasting their lives to eager followers on the outside. Esther knows that if she stops being Special, he will “renew” her. That means being replaced with another Esther. Nobody knows what happens to the Special Ones who are taken away from the farm for renewal, but Esther fears the worst. She also knows she’s a fake. She has no ancient wisdom, and is deeply troubled about her life in captivity. But like an actor caught up in an endless play, she must keep up the performance if she wants to survive long enough to escape.
This book is incredibly satisfyingly creepy for the first half. For that reason, I struggled to rate it. In a lot of my reviews, I talk about the first half of the book being okay and the second half really sucking me in, but I had the opposite experience with this book. The beginning had me hooked right away. I was horrified by but so interested in Esther/Tess’s situation. The way she has to pretend and keep Felicity/Zoe in line for their survival is incredible.
And then they get the new Lucille. She freaks out at first, but she quickly becomes a part of their group and seems weirdly interested in the roles they’re meant to act out. And her change in behavior is never really explained. She doesn’t act anything like I imagine I would act if I were kidnapped and brought to the farm, although I guess I can’t really know what I’d do, and everyone is different. I just didn’t think any of her reactions made any sense.
And things don’t get better. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I can’t stand books that change perspectives. I’m tempted to forgive this book for that since there are things we need to learn about the abductor that would be hard to uncover otherwise. And in Criminal Minds they do jump to the killer’s perspective, and I love Criminal Minds. I’m not really sure about how I feel about the fact that there are no indicators on the page that the perspective is switching–you just have to figure it out from the text. But in the perspective of the abductor, we don’t really learn as much as I think we need to. He talks about the “tragedy” a few times, and maybe this is just me, but I still don’t know what that incident is. Clearly it has something to do with his parents, but what it is exactly, I don’t know. And then there’s the photograph. It’s hard for me to fully accept his motivations. He had no emotional ties to that photo. It all came from a drug-induced hallucination that I suppose the author means to say is strong enough at that moment that it makes him obsessed with the photo. I would have liked the photo to have had more significance to his life.
Ultimately, this is a very cool concept, but I don’t think it was executed as well as it could have been. Still, it was a fun, creepy read. On to the next book!