Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Liar's Daughter by Megan Cooley Peterson

There's a video on YouTube called "Mind Control Made Easy" which is about the psychology of cult leaders. It's clearly low budget, but very well done in spite of that. I have never been 100% sure whether it was intended to be satirical/comedic or not, because while it is funny at times, that humor is rooted in a very dark truth: no matter how ridiculous what they are saying is, these tactics have worked before by real cult leaders.

I read a lot of nonfiction books and memoirs about cults and extreme fundamentalist religions a few years ago because that's what I do: I get interested in a topic, obsess over it, only to lose interest and forget about it a few years later. I always found them both horrific and fascinating-- it chilled me that people could be so unquestioning, so blindly trusting; it felt like a grievous oversight in the hard-wiring of our brains to make us this "hackable." How can things like this happen? I wondered.

THE LIAR'S DAUGHTER takes that concept and really races off with it. Piper is a teenager who has spent her whole life being raised in a cult. She loves her Mother and Father, and does not question them-- even when their asks are big and dangerous, and might involve abuse, drugs, or underage marriage. Her parents want only the best for her mind and body, and every unpleasant thing is a test to judge if she is ready for enlightenment. Told in BEFORE and AFTER, THE LIAR'S DAUGHTER explores what a cult upbringing would do to a child's psychology and how hard it might be for her to go back.

Piper is a really difficult character to like. Her upbringing has made her cruel and insensitive, as the cult she's in rewards people for ratting each other out. She is quick to turn her back on those who are closest to her if she thinks it'll get her a pat on the head from an adult figure. In the AFTER portion of the book, she is suspicious, sly, and selfish, and the things she does to her real mother, Jeannie, are unspeakably cruel-- especially one thing she does towards the end that made me want to slap her. I had to keep reminding myself that to Piper, Jeannie was the interloper, the kidnapper, the bad person who had a hand in her being forcibly removed from an environment that felt comfortable and familiar, no matter how horrible and abusive it seemed to us, the reader. It was sickening.

I think this is a good book, but I didn't really enjoy reading it. Piper was truly horrid and the content was very dark. I found it fascinating from that morbidly curious angle that motivated me to go out and buy all those books about cults in the first place, but I don't really think a book that made me as angry and upset as this one did can really be considered "enjoyable" or "fun." Kids will probably get a kick out of it though, as Cooley Peterson never talks down to her young adult audience or writes as if she thinks that they won't be able to handle it, and I really respect that in a YA author.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!  

3 out of 5 stars

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