This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.
I've always been fascinated by cults, primarily because I can't understand what could possibly drive someone to seek some kind of purpose within such a group. I suppose there are as many reasons to join a cult as there are cult members in the world. In Gated, a family is drawn into a cult led by a named Pioneer shortly after they suffer the disappearance of one of their daughters. Pioneer preys on their grief and terror, gaining their trust by demonstrating his willingness to help the family while the local police (and the rest of the country) were consumed with the after-effects of 9-11.
Lyla is the narrator of Gated and the remaining child in her family. Her induction into the cult as a child ensures that she views the outside world with hostility and mistrust. She manages to form solid relationships with other members her age, including Will, the boy who Pioneer declared Lyla will marry. (Side note: unlike many real-life cults, there is no sexual abuse in Gated, although there are several instances of physical abuse.)
Pioneer informs his followers of a fast-approaching apocalypse of which only he is aware. Lyla's father views the outside enemy in a relatively practical sense: only the community has knowledge of and is prepared for the coming apocalypse, so, logically, the rest of the world is going to converge on the community to steal their resources. They must be prepared to kill to ensure that the community survives. Her mother, on the other hand, has a more straight-forward reason for wanting to kill; everyone outside their tiny community is evil and deserves to die.
Hating outsiders, however, does not mean that they can always be avoided. Pioneer and his followers occasionally need resources from the outside world, and on one of these outings, Lyla encounters Cody, the sheriff's son who previously paid a visit to the community along with his father. Despite her wariness, Lyla connects with Cody and he challenges her to question her long-held beliefs.
Even though I knew Pioneer had to be either a scam artist or completely loony tunes, I felt my own heart racing near the end of the book, as the build-up to the clash between the community and the outsiders finally occurs. There were so many exciting moments, and I never knew in which direction Parker would take the story.
It's terrifying to think of cult-leaders like Pioneer that we already know existed (Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, Charles Manson, David Koresh, etc.), but Gated left me wondering how many of these cults exist hidden in the shadows. I think it also shows the ease with which vulnerable people can be seduced by someone who claims to have the answer to their problems. Lyla's development through the book from unquestioning follower to someone willing to challenge those around her seemed believable. All she needed was someone on the outside to give a little push, and the walls of her little compound began to crumble.
Note: I received and ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.