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The Source Family Documentary

11 Fascinating Novels About Cults

Our reading list just got longer.

What is this innate fascination we all seem to have with cults? Is it an interest and disbelief that so many people seem to fall into them? Do we find it impossible to imagine ourselves within a world where we, too, are pulled deep into the depths of a cult?

 

Or is it an interest based on the knowledge and fear that we are really only human and that maybe, someday, someone will be convincing enough to drag us down into their cult? Are we trying to prepare for the day we need to abandon the compound and make a run for it?

 

Or, maybe it's just me... I'm not sure where my interest stems from, but I can never seem to learn enough about cults whether they're real, imagined, historical, or still up-and-running. They fascinate me. I always find myself wanting to scream at the leader, hug the followers, and help them escape. And, while the actions of the followers can sometimes be horrific, I always empathize because I know no one ever really sets out to join a cult; it just happens before you even realize what's actually happening. And, I love communities. I love being a part of a group. So, I get it. I understand the desire to be surrounded by like-minded people, and how it only takes one toxic, narcissistic individual to manipulate the crowd and ruin it for everyone.

 

So, be careful who you trust.

 

And, before you set-out to investigate and learn about cults first-hand, maybe you can instead dive deep into these novels based on real-life cults.

 

 

1. The Girls by Emma Cline

 

The Girls
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.

 

2. Children of Paradise by Fred D'Aguiar

 

Children of Paradise
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

Joyce and her young daughter, Trina, are members of a utopian community ruled by a magnetic preacher. When Trina, plays too near to the cage holding the commune’s gorilla, Adam, the ape attacks and kills the child. Or so everyone believes. That night, the preacher dramatically “revives” her—an act that transforms Trina into a symbol of its charismatic leader’s God-like power. Desperate to save her daughter from the preacher’s control, the outspoken Joyce attempts a daring escape, a run for freedom aided by another prisoner—the remarkable Adam.

Told with a sweeping perspective in lush prose, shimmering with magic, and devastating in its clarity, Children of Paradise is a brilliant and evocative exploration of oppression—of both mind and body—and of the liberating power of storytelling.

 

3. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

 

1Q84
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled. 

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

 

4. Gated by Amy Christine Parker

 

Gated
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

Lyla Hamilton is a loyal member of the Community. Her family was happy to be chosen by Pioneer to join such an lovely gated neighborhood. Here, life seems perfect.
 
But after meeting Cody, an outsider boy, Lyla starts questioning Pioneer, her friends, her family--everything. And if there's one thing not allowed in the Community, it's doubt. As Pioneer cleverly manipulates his flock toward disaster, the real question is: Will Lyla follow her heart or follow Pioneer over the edge?

From the outside looking in, it's hard to understand why anyone would join a cult. But Gated tells the story from the inside looking out, and from behind the gates things are not quite so simple. Amy Christine Parker's beautiful writing creates a chilling, utterly unique YA story. Perfect for fans of creepy thrillers and contemporary fiction alike.
 

 

5. The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock

 

The Shelter Cycle
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

Francine and Colville were childhood friends raised in the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religion that predicted the world could end in the late 1980s. While their parents built underground shelters to withstand the impending Soviet missile strike, Francine and Colville played in the Montana wilderness, where invisible spirits watched over them. When the prophesied apocalypse did not occur, the sect’s members resurfaced and the children were forced to grow up in a world they had believed might no longer exist. 

Twenty years later, Francine and Colville are reunited while searching for an abducted girl. Haunted by memories and inculcated beliefs, they must confront the Church’s teachings. If all the things they were raised to believe were misguided, why then do they suddenly feel so true? 
 

 

6. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes

 

The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too.

Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it's clear that Minnow knows something—but she's not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.
 

 

7. The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante 

 

The Patron Saint of Butterflies
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

Agnes and Honey have always been best friends, but they haven't always been so different. Agnes loves being a Believer. She knows the rules at the Mount Blessing religious commune are there to make her a better person. Honey hates Mount Blessing and the control Emmanuel, their leader, has over her life. The only bright spot is the butterfly garden she's helping to build, and the journal of butterflies that she keeps. When Agnes's grandmother makes an unexpected visit to the commune, she discovers a violent secret that the Believers are desperate to keep quiet. And when Agnes's little brother is seriously injured and Emmanuel refuses to send him to a hospital, Nana Pete takes the three children and escapes the commune. Their journey begins an exploration of faith, friendship, religion and family for the two girls, as Agnes clings to her familiar faith while Honey desperately wants a new future.

 

8. Sway by Zachary Lazar

 

Sway
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

Three dramatic and emblematic stories intertwine in Zachary Lazar's extraordinary new novel, SWAY--the early days of the Rolling Stones, including the romantic triangle of Brian Jones, Anita Pallenberg, and Keith Richards; the life of avant-garde filmmaker Kenneth Anger; and the community of Charles Manson and his followers. Lazar illuminates an hour in American history when rapture found its roots in idolatrous figures and led to unprovoked and inexplicable violence. Connecting all the stories in this novel is Bobby Beausoleil, a beautiful California boy who appeared in an Anger film and eventually joined the Manson "family." With great artistry, Lazar weaves scenes from these real lives together into a true but heightened reality, making superstars human, giving demons reality, and restoring mythic events to the scale of daily life. 

 

9. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

 

The Leftovers
via Amazon

Synopsis:

What if―whoosh, right now, with no explanation―a number of us simply vanished? Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?

That's what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened―not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children. 
Kevin Garvey, Mapleton's new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin's own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne. Only Kevin's teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she's definitely not the sweet "A" student she used to be. Kevin wants to help her, but he's distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start.

With heart, intelligence and a rare ability to illuminate the struggles inherent in ordinary lives, Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers is a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection and loss.

 

10. The Followers by Rebecca Wait

 

The Followers
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

The Followers is a compassionate and suspenseful story of the dissolution of a family. Judith has been visiting her mother, Stephanie, in prison once a month for the last eight years. She still can't bring herself to talk with her mother about what brought them here--or about Nathaniel, the man whose religious cult almost cost them their lives.

When Stephanie first meets him, she is a struggling single mother and
Nathaniel is a charismatic outsider, unlike anyone she's ever known. In deciding to join the small religious cult he has founded, Stephanie thinks she is doing the best thing for her daughter: a new home, a new purpose.

Judith and Stephanie are initiated into a secret society whose "followers" must obey the will of a zealous prophet. As Stephanie immerses herself in her new life, Judith slowly realizes the moral implications of the strict lifestyle Nathaniel preaches. Tensions deepen, faith and doubt collide, and a horrifying act of violence changes everything. In the shattering aftermath, it seems that no one is safe.

Powerful, gripping, and impossible to forget, The Followers is a novel about
love, hope, and identity that asks timely questions: Are we still responsible for our actions if we remake ourselves in someone else's image? And can there be a way back?

 

11. Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

 

Survivor
Image Via Amazon

Synopsis:

Tender Branson―last surviving member of the Creedish Death Cult―is dictating his life story into Flight 2039’s recorder. He is all alone in the airplane, which will crash shortly into the vast Australian outback. But before it does, he will unfold the tale of his journey from an obedient Creedish child to an ultra-buffed, steroid- and collagen-packed media messiah. Unpredictable and unforgettable, Survivor is Chuck Palahniuk at his deadpan peak: a mesmerizing, unnerving, and hilarious satire on the wages of fame and the bedrock lunacy of the modern world.

 

 

 

Featured Image via Secret Transmissions

Synopsis via Amazon