by Amy Christine Parker
Do the gates keep the unchosen out or the chosen in?
In Mandrodage Meadows, life seems perfect. The members of this isolated suburban community have thrived under Pioneer, the charismatic leader who saved them from their sad, damaged lives. Lyla Hamilton and her parents are original members of the flock. They moved here following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, looking to escape the evil in the world. Now seventeen, Lyla knows certain facts are not to be questioned:
Pioneer is her leader.
Will is her Intended.
The end of the world is near.
Like Noah before him, Pioneer has been told of the imminent destruction of humanity. He says his chosen must arm themselves to fight off the unchosen people, who will surely seek refuge in the compound’s underground fortress–the Silo.
Lyla loves her family and friends, but given the choice, she prefers painting to target practice. And lately she’d rather think about a certain boy outside the compound than plan for married life in the Silo with Will. But with the end of days drawing near, she will have to pick up a gun, take a side, and let everyone know where she stands.
Like most people, I find the study of cults fascinating and a little sad. I actually ended up taking a class on cults my junior year of college because one of my original classes for that semester–Latin 3, if you’re wondering–was cancelled due to a lack of interest. Shocker. Somehow, a few days before school began, I had to find another class to register for to keep up with my full-time student status, and there were few classes for my major, my minors, or my general requirements that were open. I finally stumbled across a class called New Religious Movements(the more sociological term for cults and sects) that was open and fit a requirement for my religion minor with a professor who was generally spoken of positively. I registered, not knowing that class would end up being one of my favorites and most fascinating. See, that class is why I had such a profound interest in Gated from the start, and the book did not disappoint.
The society at Mandodrage Meadows is the type of place outsiders look upon with a mixture of curiosity and fear. The members do not interact with the modern world as much as they can help it, aside from the occasional run in to town for supplies. They stockpile. They create a bunker, and they’re waiting the apocalypse. Each member is paired off with another for families, and all of the families have undergone trauma of some kind, and are looking at the society as a place of healing. At the front of it all is Pioneer, the leader of them all.
I thought Parker did a terrific job of writing the world of Mandodrage Meadow as both appealing and off-putting at the same time. It was easy to see what could attract families, especially families who had lost loved ones, to the community and simple life the compound gave. Yet, Parker never slipped into making the life seemed ideal. All along, the idea that this society was so carefully structured that an outside magazine or a pair of teenagers sneaking out could bring this down.
Lyla navigated her world with such ease, and at first I couldn’t help the dissonance I felt as an outsider looking in and the comfort she seemed to carry. Couldn’t she see how scary and wrong this was? How the end of the world could come at any moment, yes, but that all the prepping and packing and hiding away just built fear, not tore it down? That was everything the reader in me wanted to say as I read about Lyla’s day-to-day life, but of course her comfort makes sense. She wasn’t born in Mandodrage Meadows, so it’s not really the only life she’s ever known, but it’s close enough.
Throughout the story, Lyla slowly opens herself up to the outside world a little bit more, and this was also fascinating to see from the perspective of someone who doesn’t really live in the same world so many of us do. I thought her character was well-written and that her curiosity, discomfort, and terror were all presented well.
Pioneer, the leader of Mandodrage Meadows, is one of the most complex and complicated characters I’ve ever read about. The story is told through Lyla’s first-person POV, so we only see Pioneer through Lyla’s eyes. We see her awe and admiration at the beginning, her confusion and hurt in the middle of the book, and her ultimate anger by the end. Pioneer is deranged, but the way his carefully composed character presents as pleasant and charismatic is. . . disturbing, to say the least.
Gated is a difficult book to read. It moves slowly as Lyla lives out what her community truly believes is the last of days, just to culminate in a quick and breath-catching last fifty pages. It’s not a book for everyone, and throughout Gated, readers will really SEE the world that Pioneer has built, which can be difficult reading as an outsider, having already labelled this group a cult. But it’s still a book I would recommend to people who enjoy the study of cults and find them sadly fascinating, as I do.
Final Impression: Not an easy or fun read by any means, but I thought Gated was an excellent look into a cult that is preparing for the end of the world and seeing the effect the community and it’s leader can have on a teenager’s life. I thought the society at Mandodrage Meadows was written really well in a way that both made me understand how the community to seem so compelling to people while at the same times still being disturbing. 4/5 cupcakes.