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Gated - Amy Christine Parker One of the best possible ways to read a book is to go in blind, having no clue what it's about. If you do, the plot twists are even more shocking, the revelations are unexpected and everything completely blind-sides you. It's a perfect literary ride. In this case, I read Gated's blurb and had a good idea what it was about, or, at least, I thought I did. Before I started reading this book, I actually thought it was a dystopian novel. The blurb immediately struck me as a story featuring a corrupt society and a girl trying to break free. In this case, I was only partially right because this novel is about a girl trying to escape a corrupt society, but in Gated, her small community is being controlled by a sociopathic cult leader. Intriguing? You can bet on it.

Gated builds its anticipation slowly, introducing us to the protagonist, Lyla, whose family, in the wake of 9/11, suffers a tragedy leaving them broken and emotionally vulnerable to the charismatic Pioneer. He seemingly has nothing but the family's best interest at heart when he suggests Lyla's family, and a few other families undergoing other hardships, move to the middle of nowhere, Mandrodage Meadows, to escape the evils of the world. Pioneer tells them they have all been chosen by the Brethren (deities that only communicate with Pioneer) to survive the coming destruction of the earth happening in only a few months from the start of the novel. In the Community, Pioneer runs a tight ship never allowing any contact with the outside world except for a few supply runs done in the nearby town. There's no TV, internet, newspapers or magazines allowed for fear of corruption of the outside world. Pioneer exerts full control over all parts of their lives right down to pairing their children off for marriage.

Reading Lyla narrate the novel with such confidence in Pioneer is a mixture of downright disturbance and horror. Parker cleverly captured Lyla's fear, naiveté and ignorance perfectly, while at the same time crafting a villain that is so hard to pinpoint. What are his motives? Does he really care about their well fair? Or, how did one man manage to convince a group of intelligent, rich families to abandon everything and move out in the middle of nowhere? It was all very fascinating to watch unfold. But it was even more interesting to see Lyla slowly uncover the truth by way of her relationship with the outsider Cody. I couldn't help but feel incredibly sorry that her entire world was a lie. She's not a character that you would consider badass or weak, but rather, one who learns to adapt to her situation as it changes. In this sense, Parker did an excellent job with her character growth.

The one piece of criticism I would have would be Cody's character. I really enjoyed the romance between him and Lyla. It doesn't consume the plot like other novels and Lyla doesn't lose her head as soon as she meets him. What their encounter does bring is the one thing Pioneer has been desperate to keep out of the Community: Doubt.  She's confused over her feelings for Cody when she has only brotherly affection for her Intended, Will. Cody was never a bad character and I didn't dislike him, but as his role in the novel grew, I never felt I got a good handle on who he really was. Instead, he felt more like Lyla's way out of the Community verses a legit contender for her affections.

The one thing that I really appreciated and loved about Gated was how each chapter started with a quote that hinted at Pioneer's psyche. In the beginning, most chapters featured one from either a religious text like the Bible or from Pioneer himself. Seeing the correlation of his words and the religious quotes really sent chills up my spine because, at first, he doesn't seem dangerous and you can see how it could be so easy for someone to follow someone like him. But as we get further into the story where Pioneer's behavior becomes more and more erratic, the quotes become increasingly alarming in context. We start to see Pioneer's true nature through the quotes from Charles Manson and Jim Jones. From there, the novel steps into full-on suspense mode, making it incredibly difficult to put down.

The ending wraps everything up in a very satisfying manner for a standalone book. While, most of the loose ends are tied up, it does still leave you with a few questions. I still wonder if Pioneer himself was initially responsible for the tragedies that brought all of the families to Mandrodage Meadows in the first place. Did he emotionally break those families only to put them back together truly broken, some beyond fixing? It's a chilling thought.

All in all, Gated is a pretty fantastic debut that has easily made its way to my favorites of 2013 shelf. This is a novel that I'd highly recommend readers who are into psychological thrillers and/or cult novels. If you do embark on this page-turner, be sure to carve out plenty of time to finish the second half in one sitting!

ARC was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you!

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