Overall, this was a great book. I read it super fast, and found it very compelling in multiple ways. I did have two pretty big problems with it, though, so it’s not getting that five star rating I thought it might when I was halfway through.
This is only my second Courtney Summers book, my first being her previous novel, Sadie, which I liked but didn’t love (I did the audio and thought the production was horrendous, which definitely affected my feelings towards the book). But regardless of what Overall, this was a great book. I read it super fast, and found it very compelling in multiple ways. I did have two pretty big problems with it, though, so it’s not getting that five star rating I thought it might when I was halfway through.
This is only my second Courtney Summers book, my first being her previous novel, Sadie, which I liked but didn’t love (I did the audio and thought the production was horrendous, which definitely affected my feelings towards the book). But regardless of what caused me not to like Sadie as much as I wanted, this one was always going to be more up my personal preference alley. I am fascinated by cults and what they can do to the human mind, how the atmosphere and manipulation of a cult or cult leaders can take otherwise average human beings and manipulate them into enduring and participating in things they otherwise would avoid or decry, manipulate them into giving up their identities and freedoms of choice in favor of whatever the cult is offering. I think this is something that fascinates, and angers, Courtney Summers as well.
The book follows two sisters, Bea and Lo, who were close in childhood, but due to a terrible car accident where both their parents are killed and Lo almost dies as well, Bea is put in the path of Lev Warren, the leader of The Unity Project, at her most vulnerable moment. He pulls her into the cult and out of Lo’s life just when their sisterhood would have been most important to both of them. Nineteen year old Lo is really the main character, narrating from 2017 and 2018 as she once again tries to seek out her sister, seven years after Bea joined The Project, but we also get flashbacks to Bea’s life during those missing seven years, and see how she was drawn in and kept in Lev Warren’s orbit for so long.
There was so much good here. Lo’s character arc was so well drawn, and even though Bea’s had much less page-time, it was also very satisfying and well put together. I believed in their bond, even though we don’t see very much of them actually interacting, and they are separated for most of the novel. It’s also clear that Summers did her research about cults, how they move about in the world, how they manipulate behind the scenes, and how it feels to be a member on the inside, the push and pull of it. I will confess that I wanted more prurient details about the cult, but I understand why they’re not really there. I liked the way Summers handled the complexities of looking at The Project (for example, the real verifiable good they do for the community, and how painful it is to see that tainted by manipulation, abuse, lies and cruelty), and how a simple shift in perspective can change so much in a person’s mind.
As mentioned above, I do have two real complaints that are less about personal preference. They are both spoilery, so don’t click through if you haven’t read the book, or I guess if you just don’t care about spoilers. SPOILERS The first is that I thought Lo’s transition from being vehemently anti-cult, anti-Project, to believing in the Project and wanting to be a member, happened too suddenly. I wanted maybe more time to pass, more seductive courting of Lo, more of her seeing the good the Project did and being courted into Lev’s inner circle. Maybe I would feel differently upon re-reading, but I wasn’t convinced by the group or Lev as a reader, so it felt wrong to me that Lo didn’t see it, too. So that was a huge issue for me. An even bigger one is the ending. Maybe I just don’t gel with what Summers does with her endings in general, because I also thought Sadie ended poorly, but whereas I could totally see what she was trying to do with the ending of Sadie, I’m just plain puzzled by this book’s ending. It was just so jarring. Are we supposed to believe that Lo murdered Lev? That God intervened and his divine presence killed Lev and saved Lo? I could perhaps deal with the uncertainty of that if it had played differently on the page. We just cut to black, and then there’s a huge time jump. I didn’t like it, I don’t get it. I needed more from the most pivotal scene in the novel END SPOILERS.
Regardless of my issues with this book, though, I still highly recommend it, and I’m glad I purchased a hard copy, because I will definitely be re-reading.