Astray – Amy Christine Parker
Lyla is caught between two worlds. The isolated Community that she grew up in and the outside world that she’s navigating for the very first time. The outsiders call the Community a cult, but Pioneer miraculously survived a shooting that should have killed him. Are the faithful members right to stay true to his message? Is this just a test of faith? One thing is for sure: the Community will do anything to bring Lyla back to the fold. Trapped in a spider’s web of deception, will Lyla detect the sticky threads tightening around her before it’s too late? She’ll have to unravel the mystery of what Pioneer and the Community are truly up to if she wants to survive.
Review: Astray is book #2 in a series. Book #1 is called Gated. This review contains minor spoilers for Gated because I couldn’t figure out how to write the review without them.
The narrator, Lyla, has left the “Community” where she grew up and is living with her boyfriend and his family. Pioneer, the leader of the Community, is in jail, but all of the Community members except for Lyla are still loyal to him. As Lyla adjusts to life as a “regular” teen, the Community members do everything they can to bring her back to them.
I love it when a cult book is so well-researched that I can name the real-life religious groups that the author took the plot from. This novel is twisted and creepy, but it’s not unrealistically twisted and creepy. I always throw a tiny party in my head when authors resist the urge to turn their fictional cults into idiotic Hollywood stereotypes.
I especially appreciate that the author shows religious discrimination and the problems people face when they de-convert from a religion. The parents in the book don’t want Lyla around their children. She used to be part of a dangerous religion, and they don’t trust her. The discrimination is so bad that Lyla considers going back to the Community to escape from the verbal abuse that the townspeople are constantly hurling at her. I’m grateful that the author took the time to make Lyla’s struggle realistic.
I’m a slow reader, but I got through most of this book in a day. Gated is a thriller, and Astray is more of a contemporary novel, but I still found Astray intensely readable. I didn’t want to put it down.
‘“I'm not trying to take your beliefs away from you. Really. All I'm asking is that you consider why you believe them.’ Her eyes rest on me. ‘Questions aren't bad, in fact they're necessary when you're trying to figure out just exactly what you stand for.’” – Astray
I have a few issues with Astray. All of the characters are underdeveloped, even Lyla. I never felt a connection to any of them because they’re too bland to be realistic. I needed to know more about Cody and Lyla’s relationship to believe it. Why are they together?
I think the characters lack some common sense. For example, Lyla is forced to go to the same public school as the kids from the Community. (I’m not sure why. She’s going to be a witness in Pioneer’s criminal trial. Would she be sent to school with kids who might want to stop her from testifying?) On the first day of school, the principal praises Lyla for putting Pioneer in jail. She’s standing with a bunch of kids who are loyal to Pioneer while he’s praising her. Lyla’s story and the hostility that the Community feels toward her are public knowledge. Doesn’t the principal realize that praising Lyla could put a huge target on her? Lyla’s not safe at this school, and he makes it worse by playing favorites. He insults the religious beliefs of the Community kids. This is not how you welcome new students to your school!
Also, Lyla lives with the sheriff, but she doesn’t tell him that the Community kids are harassing her. Um . . . why?
Finally, the Community members kill someone from Lyla’s school at the end of the book. Again, why? The murder didn’t benefit the Community in any way that I could see.
For me, the realism and readability of this book outweigh the issues. I think Gated and Astray are a solid duology.