Leaving Fishers – Margaret Peterson Haddix
Dorry is unbearably lonely at her new high school until she meets Angela and her circle of friends. She soon discovers they all belong to a religious group, the Fishers of Men. At first, as Dorry becomes involved with the Fishers, she is eager to fit in and flattered by her new friends' attention. But the Fishers make harsh demands of their members, and Dorry must make greater and greater sacrifices. In demonstrating her devotion, Dorry finds herself compromising her grades, her job, and even her family's love. How much is too much? And where will the cult's demands end?
Review: I’m always searching for well-researched fiction about religious abuse, so when a fellow book blogger recommended Leaving Fishers to me, I immediately tracked down a copy.
The main character, Dorry, moves from a rural town to the city. She’s lonely in her new high school until she meets a group of kids who call themselves the Fishers of Men. They all attend the same church. Eager to fit in, Dorry quickly joins their church and makes a bunch of new friends, but soon her friends’ demands become overwhelming. They want her to spend all of her time with them. They punish her for her “sins” and convince her to give her college savings to their church. Dorry feels like she’s losing control of her life and decides to leave the Fishers. (That’s not a spoiler. Look at the title.) But, leaving isn’t as easy as it seems.
The research in this book is on-point. I have read a lot of nonfiction about cults and religious extremism, so I have a fairly good understanding of how these things work. Leaving Fishers follows the cult-initiation “script” so closely that I could almost predict what would happen next in the story. That might sound like a bad thing, but it isn’t. I love that the author actually did her research. So many authors don’t. They just repeat stereotypes and misinformation.
Unfortunately, the research is the only thing I love about the book. The writing is very bland, and I never got invested in the characters’ lives.
My main problem with the book is the character development. There isn’t any. I know that the Fishers’ religion has completely taken over the characters’ lives, but they should still have personalities, right? Dorry has a crush on one of the boys in the group, and I don’t know why. I don’t even remember his name because he’s a cardboard “hot guy” character. All of the characters are flat, even Dorry. I think this book would have benefitted from being longer and slower-paced. It’s only 260 pages. So much stuff happens in those pages that we don’t have time to learn about the characters. Everything feels rushed.
I also wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. I’m thrilled that the author did her research, but is it possible for a book to be too well-researched? At the end of the novel, Dorry meets an ex-Fisher who tells her all about cults. Their discussion is too educational for my tastes. Between the lack of character development, the rushed plot, and the educational ending, the book feels like a cautionary tale instead of an entertaining novel. The message is Watch out for cults, kids. I guess that’s a helpful message, but it’s too heavy-handed for me.
Leaving Fishers is one of the better-researched cult novels I’ve read, so if you’re looking for accuracy, I’d recommend this one, but I was expecting more than just a cautionary tale.