The Special Ones was one of those really interesting (and incredibly creepy) sounding books that almost completely slipped under the radar for me, but once I heard about it, I knew it was the kind of book that I really wanted to read. I haven’t picked up a really good thriller in a while so I decided that as soon as I got this (Thank you HMH!), I was going to sit down and read it. I finished it in a day and a half, because I was swept up in everything going on in this book and I absolutely adored it.
“Sometimes being Esther feels like wearing a Halloween costume. One that doesn’t fit. One I can’t ever take off.”
Esther is a teenage girl – one of four – that make up The Special Ones – a group of three girls and a boy, who live in a farmhouse and are thought to have immortal souls and be spiritual guides to those who follow them. Their lives are broadcasted on television for others to watch, and their days are simple – they have no electricity, running water, or frivolous novelties of the modern world. Every night, they do their chores and then are forced to sit down and answer the questions of their followers on a special chat room that has been set up for them.
But it’s not that simple – Esther and the other Special Ones are under constant supervision of their leader – one who administers harsh punishments and will send one of the Special Ones away for the simplest infraction – such as stepping out of character.
See, the Special Ones aren’t really all that “special” – they are teenagers that have been “collected” and forced into the roles of the Special Ones – Esther, Harry, Lucille, and Felicity. After they are kidnapped, they are brainwashed and forced into becoming one of the Special Ones, by means of altering their physical appearance if necessary, and forcing them to “learn the ways” of the specific Special One they were assigned to be – each has a “remembering journal” that teaches them how they are supposed to think, act, and what kind of chores they are supposed to do.
“I know only too well what happens to the new ones who are brought here. Gradually they are convinced to change, molded to be who we tell them they are. But there’s another unanswered question: What happens to the ones who leave?”
Esther has been in her role for two years now – and she has seen her fair share of girls to be Lucille and Felicity come and go. Each time they are to be “renewed,” they are given a notice and are only then allowed to leave the farm where they are being held – and Esther has no idea what happens when someone is set to be renewed. Do they get to live? Are they killed? Because she does not know, she tries her hardest to be and do what is expected of her, while still trying to hold onto the sliver of herself she still has.
I really, really loved this book. It was so deliciously creepy in all the right ways, and I have a real interest in YA books that depict cult life, so this was something I was really able to enjoy.
I loved Esther’s character – and yes, she is only Esther until about midway through the book when you learn her actual name. This book has been well thought out in terms of the plot and the characters, almost to the point where it feels like you’re in the house with the Special Ones.
The relationships that the Special Ones develop while in the house together are intricate and well written, especially when the new Lucille is “collected” and they must work together to get her to understand why she is there. But the friendship between Esther and Harry is my favorite, as it really adds another dimension to the story and the characters.
Honestly, the only problem that I had with this book was the way that it was written in terms of narration. For the first half of the book, it’s strictly Esther doing the narration, and since it’s in first person, it’s really easy to follow. While the rest of the book is in first person as well, eventually it starts switching to another character – the “leader” of the Special Ones – the one who keeps them on the farm. Why this suddenly changes with no notice at all (not any headings or chapter titles or anything), I have no idea, but then another chapter or two down the line it goes back into Esther’s point of view, with again no notice. At first I found this confusing, but I was able to get a handle on it shortly thereafter. Still, this was a bit abrupt, and is probably the only reason I removed a star from my rating. But honestly, it isn’t that big of a deal – I was still able to enjoy the story and fall in love with pretty much every aspect about the plot and the characters.
I did enjoy reading parts of the book toward the end from the “leader’s” point of view, as it really helped to get inside his head and figure out why he was doing what he was doing. It really added a lot in and made it deeper and more complex of a read.
The actual book itself was just amazing, and the way that the story is told through Esther’s eyes while she is in the farmhouse is really frightening at times. It’s the kind of book that you won’t want to put down once you start – Em Bailey really has a knack for drawing in readers and giving them a fantastic story.
Em Bailey is an Australian living in Germany where, despite having been a vegetarian for many years, she now enjoys the occasional Wurst. Em used to be a new-media designer for a children’s television production house and is now a full-time author. Shift is her first YA novel, although she has written a number of books for children under the name Meredith Badger.
When she’s not writing, Em is generally getting lost, losing stuff, reading, hanging out with her friends and family, and listening to Radiolab podcasts. Like Olive, she doesn’t like leggings that look like jeans, but has no problem with tofu schnitzels.
3 winners will receive a hardcover of THE SPECIAL ONES! US Only.
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