The Special Ones by Em Bailey
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016. ISBN 9781742976280
(Age: 13+) Highly recommended. Cults. Abduction. Coming of age. Thriller. Esther is one of the Special Ones, four teens who live in an isolated farmhouse and who aren't allowed to leave. They are watched by an unseen man, who knows their every movement and who punishes them for the slightest transgression from their allotted roles. He broadcasts their lives to an eager following on the outside and they are forced to give advice that fits in with the personalities that have been given them. Will there ever be a chance for Esther to escape, or will she be renewed as others have before her?
This is a highly addictive read that will keep the readers glued to the page as they follow the fortunes of the four teens, the Special Ones. The story is narrated first in Esther's voice and the reader will find that a compelling one as she paints a horrific picture of how she and the other Special Ones have to behave in their non-toxic life. At the same time the reader is kept in suspense about what has happened to the children who have been sent away to be renewed and there is always the question mark hanging over Harry - why is he free to bring back new victims to replace those sent away? In the latter part of the book, the narration is in the voice of the man who holds them in the farmhouse, and it is a frightening portrayal of someone who appears to be very normal but who really is insane.
The portrayal of Esther's character was a highlight. The reader is taken through her life as a young teen who is forbidden to leave the house - the verandah is as far as she is allowed to go - to the formidable young woman who is determined to find the other children who have been sent away for renewal. Bailey clearly brings to life what it could be like for a victim to return home and face the endless media and questioning, but Esther manages to stay true to what she believes in.
This was a very clever, scary and challenging book that is sure to be popular with teen readers.