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Review of 'The Special Ones'


The Special Ones

By Em Bailey, 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Thriller, Cult, Survival

Rating: 👻👻👻👻 (4 out of 4 "boos")


What is the book about?

“Esther is one of the four Special Ones. They are chosen by him to live under his protection in a remote farmhouse, and they must always be ready to broadcast their lives to eager followers in the outside. But on renewal day when he decides that a new Esther, Harry, Lucille or Felicity must take their place, the old ones disappear – forever. The new ones don’t always want to come, but soon they realise. Until one day Esther has a realisation of her own – and it changes everything.”


What’s the main character like?

For most of the story, Esther is the first-person narrator. Before coming to the farmhouse, she wasn’t Esther at all and had a different life. She spends a fair amount of the book grappling with her two identities: her existence living an Amish-esque lifestyle under the sway of him and her inner urge for rising past this brainwashed version of herself. To a large extent, Esther is an average teenage girl doing the best she can in an insane situation, but her actions and reactions are relatable. I was constantly wondering how I would handle her situation.


How scary is it?

Creepy as hell and disturbing come to mind, but The Special Ones was not exactly scary. Sure, if applied to real life, Esther’s situation of living in a farmhouse against her will and being part of an online cult is definitely scary. It was the thrill of wondering what was going to happen next that made my heart pound, but I was never afraid. This book did not need oogie-boogies jumping out at every corner. It would have cheapened the haunting beauty of Em Bailey’s writing.


Who might like this book?

Readers of John Fowles’ The Collector will enjoy The Special Ones. In fact, I wonder if Em Bailey was paying that book a bit of a tribute. If you haven’t read it but you like books that explore the mind of an insane person, read The Collector. It’s not YA, and it goes darker than The Special Ones, so if darker and more mature isn’t your bag, just stick toThe Special Ones.


What did I like best?

I’m in love with this book. I liked everything about it. If I had to pick what I liked best, it’s the fact that this subject matter is so screwed up, but that didn’t stop Em Bailey from writing an amazing, sensitive, and beautiful YA novel. I also love the structure of the book, but I don't want to explain because it might be a spoiler.


What wasn't my favorite?

Can't think of anything. I'm in love with this book.


What was my personal experience reading this book?

My reading of this book coincided with my belated watching of the Netflix show Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I find the two are a good pairing. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and creeped out by The Special Ones, take a break and watch an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which focuses on a similar subject but in a more light-hearted yet still sometimes-sensitive manner.


I've been on a horror movie kick this Halloween season. Anyone have any good recommendations for movies that sound similar to The Special Ones? (Cults, general creepiness, dark plots, etc.)


Next up, a book by an author with last name C...

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