Sunday, December 1, 2013

Deceived by Melody Carlson

Deceived by Melody Carlson is a cautionary tale that tackles the issue of cults by focusing on a cult similar to the breakaway sect of the Mormon church, The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headed by Warren Jeffs who was charged and convicted of the sexual assault of two under-aged girls. He is currently serving a life plus 20 years sentence.

Seventeen year old Rachel Hebert is spending her summer working at Nadine's Natural Ice Cream Parlor at the Rock Canyon Lake Resort. Rachel is living in the women's barracks along with other young women who are working at the resort. But Rachel's Christian faith means she doesn't participate in all the partying and drinking that goes on outside of work hours. This difference in values causes tension between Rachel and many of the other young women, leading her to feel isolated and alone.

Added to the stress she is experiencing at the resort, is that in her personal life. Life right now for Rachel is unsettling and confusing. Her mother announces to Rachel that her divorce is now finalized. This leaves Rachel questioning her parents belief in the permanence of marriage as their actions demonstrate otherwise. Rachel feels unmoored and distraught by her mother's willingness to leave Rachel at the resort for the entire summer while she "moves on", which Rachel takes to mean starting to date again.

Despite her lack of girlfriends, Rachel does make one good, twenty year old Josiah Davis, who lives with his uncle, the Reverend Jim Davis who runs both a new church and the Lost Springs Dairy. Josiah, who is from Australia, has been in the US for five months supposedly on missionary work. He told his mother this to escape the overbearing situation at home where his mother and step-dad belong to a radical religious sect called God's Eternal Church (GEF). Josiah's parents once both belonged to this sect, but his father left. Josiah works doing deliveries for the Lost Springs Dairy, the ice cream supplier for Nadine's shop.

Josiah is kind-hearted and respectful towards Rachel, who is completely smitten by him. Josiah shows genuine concern for Rachel, able to pick up on her down moods as she copes with the aftermath of the break-up of her family and also her troubles working at the ice cream parlor, where her coworkers do not like her. After going out on a date which they both enjoy, Josiah invites Rachel to attend his uncle's church. Rachel agrees and after going on a tour of the dairy, she attends two services which are held on the large complex that includes rustic cabins housing men and women who live simply. There are hints that Josiah's uncle's church might not be all that it seems, but both do not pick up on them. Both Josiah and Rachel are in need of stability and companionship in their lives right now and Reverend Jim's church appears to provide that. Meanwhile, a very lonely Rachel finds herself falling fast and hard for Josiah.

Rachel experiences an unexpected blow when she is framed by her co-workers and fired by Nadine for supposedly stealing two hundred dollars from the shop till. Unable to pay her road and board at the resort, Rachel calls Josiah in a panic. He suggests that she can come live at his uncle's compound but that she will have to work in order to stay there. Rachel accepts partly because she does not want to tell her mother what happened at Nadine's; she is afraid her mother might side with Nadine who is a good friend. But Rachel also sees Josiah's offer as a chance to spend the summer with him. Unwisely, Rachel does not tell her mother or Nadine about her move to Lost Springs.

As Rachel settles into Lost Springs, she begins to take note of troubling aspects of life in the compound. Men and women are kept apart, all her personal belongings including her cell phone are taken away from her and women are not free to walk around the compound unaccompanied. Miriam, the older woman with whom Rachel shares a rustic cabin, tells her that they are in the end times and that Reverend Jim is God's chosen prophet. But when Rachel learns several difficult truths about Reverend Jim's church, her doubt turns to fear and she begins to realize that she needs to leave before such a choice becomes impossible.

The issue of cults is an good one to explore through the medium of a fictional novel. Cults are still a serious threat to young people who are often dealing with family and identity issues and whose lack of life experience makes them especially vulnerable. Carlson creates a "perfect storm" for both Josiah and Rachel. Both teens have lost their safety net of the adults in their lives due the break up of their families and the loss of at least one parent from the young person's life. However, not all teens at risk from cults come from broken homes - plenty who are successfully recruited come from two parent homes. In this regard, Carlson's novel is somewhat misleading. The reasons why people join cults is not fully understood, nor why they remain.

The story is told by Rachel, who comes across as self-righteous and annoying in the first half of the novel. She's always on her co-workers case about the cleanliness of the ice cream stand and looks down on her peers as lazy and unmotivated. Unfortunately, we don't get to see Rachel change much in the novel, nor how the experience in the Reverend Jim's church changes her. She does rediscover her faith though when she finds herself in a dire predicament. The likable character in this novel is Josiah, who treats Rachel honorably and who owns up to making a mistake in getting involved in this strange church.

Carlson includes a short study guide at the back of the novel, but no resources or bibliography on cults for teens to explore further. This novel is part of her Secrets series that encourages teens to think about various issues relevant to their lives. Overall, it is a simple, general treatment of an issue that still is of concern to parents today.

For further information on cults check out Info-Cults in Montreal which is an excellent resource on cults.

Anyone truly interested in reading about cults should read Moonwebs: Journey into the Mind of a Cult by Josh Freed. I read this book in the early 1980's when it was first published and the "Moonies" were a real and visible presence in shopping malls (I was approached once by a recruiter) and airports in Canada. Family and friends of Benji Miller had to kidnap him and spent months deprogramming this brilliant young man, who was very resistant to many of the techniques used to deprogram cult victims. Freed details the extensive brainwashing techniques used on Miller in this cult.

Book Details:
Deceived: Lured from the truth by Melody Carlson
Colorado Springs: NavPress 2012
213 pp.

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