The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson

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Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781952534461
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Cults. Thriller. Guilt. Survival. In this riveting thriller, Ruby believes that it is her fault that her brother has died and her grief is overwhelming. Her mother has completely withdrawn into herself and when she meets Fox, a shining naïve youth handing out water, she falls under his spell and gradually becomes involved in what she believes in a loving community. When she goes to live at the Institute of the Sublime she quickly succumbs to the sway of Daddy, the charismatic leader of the group, and under the influence of brainwashing finds herself unable to work out what is truth and what is false.
This was a gripping read. It was all too easy to see how Ruby could be swayed by Daddy's words. She had felt empty and guilty, but Daddy persuades her that she is special and chosen. Denying her body, eating only raw food, and drinking the Institute's water, she begins to feel that she is being cleansed. Even when she and Fox are beaten by Daddy and locked up, she still continues to believe in him, such is his power of persuasion and the influence that he has over the cult members. Finally she does leave, but Wilkinson has some unexpected twists here for the unsuspecting reader in the final climax as Ruby must decide what to do.
Wilkinson paints a clear picture of how vulnerable people can be seduced into a cult and as a reader I could easily sympathise with Ruby's actions. The thought of eating pure food, and of being free of material possessions seemed rational to her although as a reader there were many times that I wanted to warn her of the dangers. In the descriptions of how the cult operates, the children who are not given names, and are called Monkeys most aroused my sympathy. Isolated from their parents, they don't believe that they are real people. Such was the power of Daddy that Ruby didn't really question how they were treated.
The tension in the book is extreme. Right from the beginning, the reader is left wondering about what is going to happen to Ruby and Fox, and as events escalate, there is enormous fear for the children and other cult members.
Teens are sure to love this book and the advice that Ruby gives at the end about 'life is for the living' is sure to make any reader ponder her thoughts. It would be a great choice for a literature circle or book group.
Pat Pledger