Elinor is lucky.
She's been chosen.
She's waited for this moment all her life. She will give herself to the man she loves. Willingly sacrifice her innocence for him.
People on the outside don't understand. They can't feel love like the Followers do.
And the end is coming. It's so close now.
But a chance meeting in the woods could alter the course of Elinor's destiny.
She must resist … she must.
Just finished reading Forbidden by Judy Waite. At only 249 pages, it is a pretty quick read (well, at least with people like me who devour books) with an intriguing plot of cult brainwashing and cult rescue.
Every once in a while a story will run in various media outlets about some cult out there somewhere with a charismatic leader promoting a strange lifestyle tinged with religious fanaticism, and often, the cults who make it to the media are those whose members' lives end in tragedy. Two that come to mind are the Branch Davidians stationed in Waco, Texas back in the early 90's and Heaven's Gate from California in the late 1990's. Those two happened in the decade I most identify with when I think of my younger days. I graduate from high shcool in 1992, got married in 1995, recieved my university diploma in 1996, began teaching in 1997, and had my first kid in 1998. Wow...I lived all that life, while others wasted away their sanity and individualism in cult activity. And, those are just two cults that made the headlines in that one decade, but probably countless others were and still are in existence.
You would think it would take something remarkable to get people to join some group whose views are so extreme and so unlike the mainstream. How is it that parents would join the Branch Davidians and then allow their teenage daughters to be offered up as brides for their leader, David Koresh? How is it normal, regular people would agree to mass suicide in order to join the supposed spaceship following after the Hale Bop comet? There is no way to explain it other than the techniques of mind control and brainwashing. But, then again maybe not. I used to teach psychology and sociology, and one of the last chapters I would cover was all about group behavior and thinking. My students were pretty shocked when I explained the results of a very famous psychological experiment conducted by Solomon Asch back in the 1950's. Basically, participants were shown a diagram with one vertical line on the left side and several vertical lines of various lengths on the right side. They were then asked to select the line from the right side that matched the one on the left side. There was only one obvious answer, but several of the participants were actually enlisted to give incorrect answers. Amazingly, a majority of the true participants also agreed with the wrong answers and were willing to exchange what they knew to be true just to conform with other group members who were working for Solomon Asch!
In Forbidden, the cult is fictional, but the lifestyle and beliefs described in the novel seem very real. It is apparent the author researched the topic pretty well and the details she chose to include match up with extreme cults that make the top news reports. What makes the story so compelling, beyond the story premise, is the character development of a 15 year old girl named Elinor. Elinor does not know how to live outside of the cult since the cult is all she knows of the world. Everything out of the cult belongs to the Outsiders whose material greed and animal consumption will lead to corruption and death. But, as a member of True Cause, Elinor is one of the lucky. She is a part of the Chosen ones--one of the many beautiful, young girls to be bonded with the cult leader named Howard. Howard and his brides are to populate the world after Endtimes, but he does not wait until Endtimes to take advantage of their bodies. As for Elinor's pre-cult life, well, it's basically an empty void. Elinor doesn't remember any of her former life or if she ever even had one. It is an honor to be one of the Chosen and her bonding ceremony is something she wishes would happen sooner than normal. Until...
"I realize I am staring at the Outsider. There is something in the set of his face, the shape of his mouth, the line of his cheek, that is unsettling me. I cannot explain it, but it hurts. I suddenly have the sense of losing something that I have never even found."
"Memories scratch at me. I said goodbye in the Drinking Den, refusing to let him walk with me. On the journey back the van rattled from a loose exhaust, and everyone joined hands and sang. I was separate. Watching them as if I had never watched them before. And remembering Jamie. I knew he was a Bad Thought, but the memory had a sweetness to it. Sweet as a stolen strawberry."
What happens to Elinor is a terrible and beautiful. The terrible is being part of True Cause and the fact that her mother brought her into it. Along with that, Elinor lost her mother and can't reconcile the only thing she has ever known to something better and different beyond the fenced woods...something she may remember somewhere in her subconscious. The beautiful is what she experiences with Jamie and what Jamie is willing to do to help her. Ultimately, Elinor is the only one who can really, truly pull herself away from True Cause. But, will it be too late? And, if she leaves True Cause can she really escape all the damage of cult brainwashing? Will she be able to reclaim her true past?
My favorite line...
"What seems real is this more private truth. My mother. My own beginnings."
"The book is essentially a love story – a story of forbidden love – but it's also about cults and mind control and belief systems, and fear. ' - Judy Waite