Disturbing! If you are in the mood to be grossed out, then pick up a copy of Seed by first time British author Lisa Heathfield.
Pearl is part of a cult and at fifteen she is totally unaware that her life is somewhat unorthodox. There are so many clues, such as the dark hole in the ground where female teens go when they finally become “a woman”. Pearl, a late bloomer, is clueless when the “event” occurs and just assumes that she is bleeding to death. Through Pearl’s eyes, we are introduced to the constrictions placed on the “farm” by leader Papa S who, in a godlike way, interprets the dictates of “Nature”. For the children, this Shangrala, called Seed, fulfills all their needs. The eleven plus members reap the benefits of the farm with the women and children harvesting the crops, milking the cows, sewing the clothes (many to sell to the”Outsiders”), preparing the meals, and completing the other chores. We start to perceive some cracks in this idyllic way of life when teenage Kate seems unhappy at the attentions of Kindred John. As children, both Pearl and Kate couldn’t wait for the privilege of being chosen as Papa S’s Companion (a rotating privilege shared by the women in the compound), yet when the time approaches for Pearl to attain this honor she suddenly has doubts. The other women try to cover for her but glance away when Papa S eventually sends for her to visit his personal chamber.
Of course, he often calls for the women, not just to share his bed, but to chastise them or put them in the chamber where a “punishment” is delivered “by nature” for any supposed deviations to the rules. Papa S has a terrible temper, and promises punishments for simple infractions, such as not finishing a meal. Changes to the group are bound to occur when a new family, Linda (an obviously abused mom) and her two children, young Sophie and teenage Ellis, are invited to join the family. Ellis goes along with the change because he wants his mom to be happy and she and Sophie seem to find comfort in the daily routines. It’s beautiful on the farm, but it doesn’t take long for Ellis to notice the structural evil inherent in the system. The teens are so ignorant they laugh when he mentions space travel to the moon. They believe that the “Outside” is fraught with pitfalls, such as toxic-filled hospitals which are places to be avoided, even when life threatening “accidents” occur. The stage is now set for the series of disasters which are bound to happen.
The writing style is simple to reflect the ignorance of the cult. While we are discovering the rules of the order, the childlike wordage seems appropriate, but as the story progresses it becomes annoying. As the plot develops, we become horrified at the actions of the adults. I would like to remove memories of some of the occurrences from my mind. Many were over the top and totally unnecessary. Papa S was evil enough without making him a Mansonlike character. Despite the horrors, the middle really dragged, while the ending was too abrupt. Many details were muddled, but perhaps they will be cleared up in the sequel. If you are familiar with true stories about various cults, you won’t be surprised with some of the elements in this story.
Although not graphic, the implied actions of three horny older men with a group of younger women are disgusting. Even though children in the cult are not informed of their parentage, within such a small group, any sex, even if consensual, would be considered incest and/or rape. Instead of being exciting, this book turned my stomach. Our hero, Ellis, is too young and easily controlled to make an impact. (Actually their methods of control are horrific).
So, do I recommend this book? If you like the horror genre with blood and guts and gratuitous death, then sure. If you prefer a happy ending with all the main characters physically and mentally intact, then choose another book. My choice is the latter, so two stars.
I would like to thank Netgalley and Running Press Teens for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.