At first, I thought this story about two teenage girls fleeing a cult/commune just didn’t ring true-to-life. One of the girls, Agnes, was way too indoctrinated to be believable, but the other girl, Honey, was too rebellious and knowledgeable to have been encased in a religious cult all her life. So, I came to believe in Agnes. She had doubts and fears, and she was confused. But Honey? Even though the author tried to explain her worldliness and her insight into the real structure of the cult by showing that she did have some contact with the outside world, a few visits to a nearby farm and a little bit of television on the sly, I just couldn’t quite see someone as worldly wise and personally strong as Honey coming out of a cult like the one described in the book.
Then, I read the author’s note at the end of the book and discovered that Cecilia Galante grew up in a commune much like the one in the book. Authoritarian and charismatic leader, psuedo-Catholic teachings, legalistic separation from the world. So, Ms. Galante has a lot more authority to write on the subject than I do, and if she says someone like Honey could come out of a lifelong immersion in such a group, immediately intact and decisive as a person, then who am I to argue?
Aside from my internal discussions with myself over characterization, I found this debut YA novel to be fascinating. It was all about lies and secrets and telling the truth and how important it is to have a self and to tell yourself and others the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
The villains (cult leaders and parents) are rather one-dimensional, but the book isn’t about them. It’s about Honey and Agnes and growing up and making decisions that are painful but necessary. Recommended for those who like to read about such things.
Other voices chiming in:
Jen Robinson’s Book Page: “The genius of this book is Galante’s telling of the story from both Agnes and Honey’s perspectives. Each girl’s personality comes through clearly, and together they give the reader a full perspective on life in this repressive religious commune.”
The Reading Zone: “Agnes’ grandmother and Honey plot to take all three children and escape the commune. Their journey begins an exploration of faith, friendship, religion and family for the two girls, as Agnes clings to her familiar faith while Honey desperately wants a new future.”
Sarah Miller: “This may be a book with something to say something about religion, but Cecilia Galante is smart enough not to turn her story into a pulpit. The plot is quick and intense, and the writing vivid enough that after Honey tasted her fist Big Mac, I just had to do the same.”