Sunday, 14 February 2016


All that Pearl knows can be encapsulated in one word: Seed. It is the isolated community that she was born into. It is the land that she sows and reaps. It is the center of her family and everything that means home. And it is all kept under the watchful eye of Papa S.

At fifteen years old, Pearl is finally old enough to be chosen as Papa S’s companion. She feels excitement... and surprising trepidation that she cannot explain. The arrival of a new family into the Seed community - particularly the teenage son, Ellis - only complicates the life and lifestyle that Pearl has depended upon as safe and constant. Ellis is compelling, charming, and worldly, and he seems to have a lot of answers to questions Pearl has never thought to ask. But as Pearl digs to the roots of the truth, only she can decide what she will allow to come to the surface. 

Wow. Just wow.
This is the kind of book I've been waiting for. I've read a lot of books lately that I enjoyed, three stars and the odd four star read. But it's been a while since I read a book I couldn't put down. The kind that I was almost late back to the office from my lunch break for because I lost track of time reading. The kind that I was so busy reading I welded rice to the bottom of a saucepan because I wasn't paying attention when I cooked dinner. I probably wouldn't have picked up this book were it not for the online book club UK YA in the rain, but I'm so glad it was our February pick!

The book kicks off with a frank description of Pearl's first period. She's comforted by a mother figure named Elizabeth who cleans her up, reassures her and puts her mind at rest. From there, things get sinister. And fast. There's a pervading sense of dread throughout the book, a dark underworld bubbling away beneath Seed's serene exterior that gets closer and closer to the surface. The first half of the book is a masterclass in dread and tension, told through Pearl's blinkered eyes. The second half, is epic! I couldn't stop reading! At first, Pearl is reluctant to believe newcomer Ellis' talk that something at Seed is amiss, but soon even she can't deny it. And when a shattering event rips the heart out of the community, things go to hell fast!

On the surface, the indoctrinated Pearl would seem like an unreliable narrator, with her blithe naviety and steadfast belief in all that she's been taught. But Lisa Heathfield does a fantastic job of weaving in little details that hint that all is not well at Seed. Even in the simple opening scenes of the group making dinner, there's something so off-kilter about the whole set up that you don't even need to get to the psychological torture and unfortunate "accidents" that befall the more vocal dissenters to know that this is a cult, pure and simple.

Pearl's story of her life as Seed is interspersed with haunting interludes from an abused, shattered mystery figure. At first, these cuts hang heavy over the book, the sense of foreboding they bring genuinely unsettling. Who is this person? Future Pearl? Her best friend Kate? Someone already dead? A mystery figure? By the time Pearl and Kate are entertaining the idea of escape, these cuts have got dark, and the whole book is so heavy with dread I wanted to shake it until it all fell out! All the cult cliches are here; mistrust of the outside world, rejection of modern conveniences, sexual abuse. The idea of the younger, particularly female members pushing against the confines of such a place with the emergence of their adulthood and sexuality isn't hugely original, but wow does Lisa Heathfield wring every drop of tension out of it! Their strangely charismatic leader, known only as Papa S at first, is genuinely creepy, more deserving of a nasty end than any character I've read recently! But even he ends the book as more than a stereotypical bad guy. He's misguided, and drunk on his own power, but by the end, he's a very real, if spectacularly screwed up, person.

That ending though!

This story doesn't really lend itself to a sequel, but I hope that there is one! I need it! It's not a pleasant read at times, and if you're looking for light and fluffy or fantasy escapism, this is not the book for you. But if you're looking for a tense, gripping, well written read then I wholeheartedly recommend that you pick up this book.

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