So, there are books about cults, and then there is this – The Cresswell Plot. Homegrown religion courtesy of a clearly unbalanced and abusive father. It is weird and disturbing in ways you probably can’t imagine. I gave it four stars on entertainment value, but many critics thought three stars were generous. I think it’s about expectations – if you are reading this for some meaningful thoughts about . . . Well . . . anything, you are going to be disappointed. However, if you just want to rubberneck some strange – this is your book.
The woods were insane in the dark, terrifying and magical at the same time. But best of all were the stars, which trumpeted their light into the misty dark.
Castella Cresswell and her five siblings—Hannan, Caspar, Mortimer, Delvive, and Jerusalem—know what it’s like to be different. For years, their world has been confined to their ramshackle family home deep in the woods of upstate New York. They abide by the strict rule of God, whose messages come directly from their father.
Slowly, Castley and her siblings start to test the boundaries of the laws that bind them. But, at school, they’re still the freaks they’ve always been to the outside world. Marked by their plain clothing. Unexplained bruising. Utter isolation from their classmates. That is, until Castley is forced to partner with the totally irritating, totally normal George Gray, who offers her a glimpse of a life filled with freedom and choice.
Castley’s world rapidly expands beyond the woods she knows so well and the beliefs she once thought were the only truths. There is a future waiting for her if she can escape her father’s grasp, but Castley refuses to leave her siblings behind. Just as she begins to form a plan, her father makes a chilling announcement: the Cresswells will soon return to their home in heaven. With time running out on all of their lives, Castley must expose the depth of her father’s lies. The forest has buried the truth in darkness for far too long. Castley might be their last hope for salvation.
I’m going to be straight – this book is full of crazy. I couldn’t tell who was buying into the religious indoctrination and who was just playing along and biding their time. That made it really hard to predict what was going to happen next. I read this in horrified fascination just like I would read about any extreme, real life horror story, and I think most readers will find themselves just as entranced. It was a bit of a guilty pleasure because the book focuses on giving readers the most sensationalized picture of religious extremism spurred by mental illness possible. There are no answers or even real nods to the fact that the father clearly has had a break with reality, though the fear that permeates a house ruled by an unstable and unpredictable mind rings true. What it boils down to is that the book plays on people’s fears and expectations, but does little to advance their understanding or compassion towards those who suffer from mental illness. Personally, I think that is okay, but if you are looking for more depth or message, it just isn’t here. It is strange and engaging and suspenseful, and most readers will be pretty fascinated by Castley’s living Hell. I’m adding it to my high school classroom library wish list, and I will recommend it to fans of psychological horror. Language and situations are appropriate for grades 9+.
I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.