Release date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Review copy from NetGalley
All that Pearl knows can be encapsulated in one word: Seed. It is the isolated community that she was born into. It is the land that she sows and reaps. It is the center of her family and everything that means home. And it is all kept under the watchful eye of Papa S.
At fifteen years old, Pearl is finally old enough to be chosen as Papa S’s companion. She feels excitement... and surprising trepidation that she cannot explain. The arrival of a new family into the Seed community — particularly the teenage son, Ellis — only complicates the life and lifestyle that Pearl has depended upon as safe and constant.
Ellis is compelling, charming, and worldly, and he seems to have a lot of answers to questions Pearl has never thought to ask. But as Pearl digs to the roots of the truth, only she can decide what she will allow to come to the surface.
As someone who's fascinated by cults and anything to do with them, factual or fictional, the moment I read the synopsis for Lisa Heathfield's YA debut Seed, I knew that I would have to get my hands on it ASAP. Though there seems to be more and more YA novels that feature cultish aspect, I find that many of them do it in a setting that's not completely contemporary. The fact that Heathfield's novel seems to take place in a world just like ours instantly made me even more curious, because I often find that books that like with a setting that I can identify with, have a much bigger effect on me.
We are introduced to Pearl, a 15-year-old girl who has just become a woman according to the rules of Seed, the most beautiful place in the world. Her new womanhood means that she is allowed to grown out her hair, to wear a skirt, and most importantly, now she's allowed to become the companion of Papa S., the leader of Seed, appointed by Nature. Pearl loves Seed and everything it represents – peace, love for nature, family. Rather than being a child of someone, she's the child of Nature and when she does something wrong or has wrong thoughts, she understands that the Nature will punish her, and she's okay with that. Having spent her whole life at Seed, she does not know that somewhere else, things are different.
When Linda moves to Seed from the Outside with her two children, Pearl finds things changing. The older of Linda's children, Ellis, a boy of Pearl's age starts to make Pearl feel things that she knows she is not supposed to feel. She's not allowed to be jealous of the attention Ellis gives to the other people of Seed, she's not allowed to feel attraction, because her ultimate goal should be to be the companion of Papa S. And she's certainly not allowed to question the rules of Seed and the possibilities of life Outside. But as more and more happens, she starts to realize that maybe there's a possibility she could have been wrong. That maybe she has been living a lie.
What I really loved about Seed is the way Heathfield very slowly and carefully reveals the workings of the cult. Rather than laying them out all at once, she builds them into the story and reveals them to the reader through dialogue and characterization. It was extremely interesting to read about Pearl and the way she very slowly starts to understand that the life outside of Seed might not be what she has been told it is. The way she blindly believes in everything Papa S. says is heartbreaking for someone who knows better and I really liked the way Heathfield first makes her so sure of the fact that Seed is the best possible place for her to be.
The way Heathfield builds the story really makes this book one of those titles that is just so difficult to put down. I found myself wanting to read more and more, just to learn more about the cult and the thoughts of Pearl as they start to change. Though I kind of knew before starting this one that Papa S. would be creepy as hell, I kind of wished that he would have been even a bit more brutal. Yes, I completely hated and despised him, but maybe it is the masochist in me for wished for even more. But for a YA novel, Papa S. is plenty creepy.
Heathfield is a very talented writer and Seed is a very promising debut. It is a coming-of-age story, a story about a delusional con-artist, a story about a society that might first seem ideal, but that actually is very messed up. Though there's just a hint of romance added to the mix, I am grateful that Heathfield has written this a story of a young woman's maturation and the way someone's worldview can change through experiences and exploration. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what Heathfield comes up next, and I hope that this novel finds its way to the hands of YA readers, because it definitely is a book worth reading!