Title: Escape from Eden
Author: Elisa Nader
Publisher: Merit Press
Release Date: 08/18/13
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult
From the publisher—
Since the age of ten, Mia has rebelled against the iron fist of a fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join a fanatical family of followers. At “Edenton,” a supposed Garden of Eden deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the reverend’s strict and arbitrary rules–even about whom they can marry. Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in and the curious out. When the rebellious Gabe, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees her chance to escape and to free her family. But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s facade are more shocking than anything they imagined. While Gabe has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond together, more than friend and freedom fighters. But there’s no time to think about love as they race against time to stop the reverend’s paranoid plan to free his flock–but not himself–from this corrupt world. Can two kids crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman whose only concern is his own secrets?
I’m dating myself, I know, but I remember Jonestown very well. For those of us on the outside, it was unbearably sad but also a real shock to our sensibilities because we had never really experienced anything remotely like this. There had been other megalomaniacs before Jim Jones—Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Kim Il Sung come to mind—but, so many years later, most of us just didn’t contemplate the possibility of a “civilian” having such total control over the people who believed in him. Those other men operated with immense cruelty but they were generally removed from the acts of their followers while Jones was right in the midst of it. Besides the incredible sadness of all the lives lost, we were confronted with the reality that some people are so lost and in search of meaning in their lives that they could be completely swayed by the glibness of a madman to the point that they would murder their own children because he told them to do it.
There have been other cults with their own kinds of disasters and leaders, like Charles Manson in the 1960’s and David Koresh in the 1990’s, who also could twist the minds of vulnerable people but Jim Jones is a name that will always be the epitome of cultish horror. In recent years, though, cults have become less of a news item. They certainly still exist but their activities are no longer in the public eye as much as they were back then. That makes what Elisa Nader has done even more remarkable than a casual reader might realize.
Ms. Nader is far too young to remember Jonestown and her target audience certainly won’t but she has created a story that brings to life how a cult leader like Jim Jones can operate. Certain traits hold true with Reverend Elias Eden including isolating his people from general society, controlling what they eat and where they go , even naming the community after himself as another subliminal means of imprinting on these people who are not allowed to keep their own family names. What’s so amazing, in real life and in this story, is how far those people will go to support their leader and I think Escape from Eden will help today’s young adult readers understand the serious pitfalls of such a life.
Yes, the scenario is frightening and sad and a matter of incredulity for those of us on the outside but here is where Ms. Nader introduces an element that relieves the sense of doom—she creates hope in the persons of Mia and Gabe, two young members of the hidden society who don’t believe, who seek to break free and perhaps bring an end to the tyranny. I appreciated the support they gave each other although I didn’t particularly care for the potential romance or Mia’s propensity to let her attraction to Gabe get in the way but it’s such a relief to have these kids bring hope to an untenable situation. Mia, in particular, is refreshingly not always the brightest bulb in the box and Gabe has his own tragic background to overcome but they have the passion to survive. Along the way, the reader is faced with intense suspense and fast-paced action, frequently feeling the need to chew fingernails.
The combination of appealing and credible characters, and some who are not so appealing, with such a bonechilling plot led me to race through the story because I just had to know what was coming on the next page while I was also dreading the end. I was afraid of what might happen but wanted the story to keep going. Elisa Nader has brought us a real winner with Escape from Eden and I hope we won’t have to wait too long before her next work. Perhaps she could come up with a novella or two to tide us over in the meantime ;-).
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2013.
About the Author
Hi. I’m Elisa. I like cheese and reading and TV show marathons. Writing is scary, but not as scary as, say, Civil War amputations. I’m an Aquarius. Uh… let’s see… I’m not very good at writing my own biography. Or autobiography. I guess this is reading more like a slightly incoherent personal ad.
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