The Creswell Plot by Eliza Wass centers around Castley (Cas) Cresswell and her five siblings. Their father has created his own religion and the family lives together believing that they are special in the eyes of God and will be called back to heaven from their temporary home on earth. Living isolated in the woods together for so long, they don’t see this as a problem, but as outsiders, the rest of the town sees them as weird (and a bit crazy).
Told from Cas’ point of view, as readers we are drawn into the abusive and constricting family environment created by her father who is leading his own cult with his children. As readers we see the madness and abusive family environment, but as the novel starts, Cas sees only strong family bonds.
The novel introduces us to a confused 16 year-old Cas who is attempting to make sense of the world around her—family, school, religion—as she navigates being a teenager. Due to an incident where one of her brothers needed medical intervention—something not allowed by her Father’s religion—Cas and her brothers and sisters are required to attend school. As Cas starts her junior year of high school, we are drawn into her school experiences as well as a mystery surrounding her family.
Throughout the book, we watch as Cas and her siblings start to question all they were taught and the relationship between their family and the outside world. Cas’ telling of her story and experiences is the strength of the novel. It draws the reader in and makes you want to know what will happen. It is painful to watch how Cas and her siblings are manipulated by their Father and in turn the other members of the family.
The quick pace of the book makes it a page turner and one you could read in one setting. It has an urgency to it. You want to learn what Cas decides about her family, about God, and what happens to her brothers and sisters. You want to make sure Cas figures things out before it is too late.
Cas and how she is represented is by far the strength of the novel. Wass asks readers to question religion and family and presents a haunting image of abuse and control framed as love. The strength of Cas’ story may be that Wass’ own religious upbringing was part of the inspiration for her novel. But, the novel’s plot falls flat. It is rushed at the end and it left me with wanting more. Clocking in at under 300 pages, its quick pace could have allowed for a longer novel that slowed down as we reached the end and allowed for more deconstruction and insight into the history of Cas’ family and how they came to be. Yet, as a debut novel, Wass’ work addressing religious cults in Young Adult fiction is a well-needed text.
Note: This review was first published in PCA/ACA Mystery & Detective Reading List (Fall 2016)