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All Fall Down by Megan Hart
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Dec 20, 11

bookshelves: arc-are, netgalley-reviews
Read from December 16 to 17, 2011 — I own a copy

Exploring the issues of identity, family and faith, All Fall Down is a thought provoking and intriguing novel.

Nineteen year old Sunshine has grown up in The Family of Superior Bliss, whose teachings of environmental sustainability and physical well being have been twisted by the charismatic cult leader to include harsh punishments, sexual abuse and psychological torture. When her mother commands Sunny to leave the compound in the middle of the night to seek shelter with the biological father she has never met, Sunny flees with her three children into the darkness.
The arrival of Sunshine and her children, Peace, Happy and Bliss, on their doorstep shocks Christopher and his wife, Leisel, who nevertheless invite the family into their home. Bewildered and wary, Sunny is devastated when the morning news reports a mass suicide at the compound and she is left to make her way in an unfamiliar world that she has been taught poisons and corrupts. Adjusting to her new life in the home of her father and stepmother proves to be a challenge when the comforting message of the Family continues to beckon.

When there is just enough truth within a lie it is much easier to believe the veracity of what is said in it's entirety, and I think the author skilfully show how cults ensnare it's members and then are able to convince them of less rational notions. Essentially the tenets of the Family of Superior Bliss are reasonable, to recycle and reuse, to be healthy both physically and mentally and to support one another but the aims are more lure than practice, perverted by a narcissist leader whose taste for extremism is allowed to flourish. It is understandable that Sunny would try to hold onto the only 'truths' she has ever known and Hart shows how difficult it is for Sunny to separate the socially acceptable messages she has learnt from the negative ones. It's a very sympathetic characterization of a cult victim, Sunny is both heart breakingly naive and vulnerable and yet has amazing inner strength to examine what she has been taught and adjust to new expectations. That the path is difficult is hardly surprising.
Equally interesting are the repercussions of Sunny's unexpected arrival for Leisel and Chris. The pair had to adjust to not only the practicalities of their household swelling by four new members but also get to know Sunny and her children, and help them integrate into society. Leisel in particular was repeatedly challenged in her own beliefs and choices which I think was an interesting counterpoint to the adjustments Sunny has to make. I was less interested in Leisel's quest for motherhood and felt it to be somewhat of an irrelevant issue that detracted from the story. I didn't think much of Chris, his guilt seemed insincere, though I was glad he eventually made some steps towards supporting both his daughter and his wife.

There was potential for the author to examine the issues in the novel more deeply but I think the story is accessible in a way that a more involved treatment would not allow. All Fall Down is an unusual and fascinating perspective of a compelling subject and is sure to stay with you.
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