No spoilersJonestown. Heaven's Gate. Warren Jeffs. Child brides. Cults. They're inherently fascinating to most of us.This was an excellent book, but it was not a light book, nor a happy book. Then again, one does not walk into Mordorstart reading a book about cults expecting to be merely entertained. We read books about such people, about such communities because they are morbidly riveting. The psychology behind them, the charisma of the leader, the type of people who would buy into---what is to the average person---an utterly ludicrous idea is such an intriguing one.I loved this book, but I cannot say I enjoyed reading it, because it was such a harrowing experience.“I can’t really be bothered by something if I don’t know that it exists. I like where I live and how I live. The smaller your world is, the safer it is, you know? I may not know about every kind of junk food or movie or book, but I don’t have to worry about someone taking someone that I love, or eating something that might ultimately kill me, or wondering every morning if someone will come to my school with a gun and shoot me or my friends, or if a group of terrorists will come and blow up the building where my parents work. The world can be a pretty scary place to live. It’s a lot less scary when there isn’t so much of it open to you."This book is told through the eyes of 17-year old Lyla. She and her parents have been living in Mandrodage Meadows (an anagram for Armageddon Meadows), headed by the astoundingly charismatic leader, Pioneer. Theirs is what we of the outside world would call a "doomsday cult." Theirs is a small community of around 20 families all working together to financially support the community, all coming from the outside world and personally selected by Pioneer to be "saved."They are the lucky ones, they are the chosen; they will be saved by the Brethren, like the animals on Noah's Ark, when the end of the world comes. And it is coming very, very soon. This book was so gut-wrenching to read, and absolutely riveting for the incredible psychological insight within such a community, within the hearts and minds of people. The things people will do to stay safe, to protect their loved ones. There is a scene involving Lyla's parents near the end that was absolutely wrenching to read. Every single person inside Mandrodage Meadows was realistic for me.Pioneer: even if he is not the main character, he is absolutely larger-than-life within the book, as well he should be. I felt his charisma, I saw his techniques of manipulation and how utterly well-done it was. He is, without a doubt, the mastermind of the community. It takes a special kind of person to lead a cult, to get people to believe in you, to control them and their beliefs, and throughout the book, Pioneer was utterly credible as the master manipulator that he was.I was horrified and fascinated by the methods he used to inveigle control over a person's mind, to win their trust, to ultimately bending their will to his. He manipulates the media to his advantage, he censors everything; music, books, nothing is allowed to be seen or viewed without his prior approval, and he uses that to devastating effect. The Indian Ocean tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of 2011...everything is molded by Pioneer to serve as further proof that the world is ending soon. As despicable a person as he is, as much as I loathed him, Pioneer was an absolutely mesmerizing character for me.Lyla: our main character and narrator. I initially did not like her, but my opinion changed throughout the course of the book. Within the first 20% of the book, Lyla's character seemed...for lack of a better word...generic. She is scared, she knows what she should do, but she mentally can't do it, she's weak, she falls into insta-love despite being promised to her beloved childhood best friend...etc. My opinion of her did not remain poor for long. She is such a good narrator, she portrays just the right amount of innocence and naiveté for someone of her upbringing, and the more I knew of her and her background, the more I found it easy to sympathize with her. It was so interesting to see through Lyla's eyes the effects of Pioneer's manipulation. She loves him, she worships him, and he uses her trust to instill fear and yet more devotion within her and the community.I greatly enjoyed Lyla's narrative, she is sheltered, but she is no fluffy, light-headed fool. She is never malicious, never cruel to other girls, and I loved Lyla for the complex character that she is. Through Lyla's eyes and thoughts, we gradually find out about her past, and how the community came to be formed after 9/11. It is a community forged on fear, and it is an utterly effective tool.The romance: I come off as a broken record in my reviews sometimes, because so often I do not like the way romance between the characters is portrayed. Well...here we go again. It is not altogether terrible, and the crush and romance between Lyla and Cody did not really appear until the latter half of the novel, but it still felt largely unnecessary to me. The book itself is wonderful enough and on a topic that's important enough to not need the taint of yet another clichéd teenage romance.As much as I complain about insta-love, this book is really not that terrible. Lyla is promised to Will, her childhood best friend, whom she adores in an attached, brotherly manner. For her, Will is like a beautiful painting that never lights a spark of inspiration within her. The attraction between Cody and Lyla is more believable, and I grudgingly concede---somewhat understandable, because they are both equally fascinating to one another. Lyla is interested in Cody because, as she admits herself, her interactions with boys outside of her very limited world is nonexistent. Cody's attraction to Lyla is more of an interest than just love at first sight.“Truthfully? I don’t know. I mean, you’re not exactly like any other girls I know. And you might be fairly cute, which helps...But I think mostly it’s because you sort of intrigue me. You’re more smothered by your parents and your situation than I’ve ever been by mine, and yet you don’t seem to notice that much...or even really mind. I don’t get it.”“I guess I want to figure you out.”This is not a perfect book, the ending left some questions that I wanted answered, and I could definitely do without a few characters. Ultimately, this was an engrossing book, with excellent writing and characterization. Highly recommended.