Published by Allen and Unwin on 1 August 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Thriller
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Ruby Jane Galbraith is empty. Her family has been torn apart and it's all her fault.
The only thing that makes sense to her is Fox - a gentle new friend who is wise, soulful and clever, yet oddly naive about the ways of the world. He understands what she's going through and he offers her a chance to feel peace. Fox belongs to a group called the Institute of the Sublime - and Ruby can't stay away from him. So she is also drawn in to what she too late discovers is a terrifying secretive community that is far from the ideal world she expected.
Can Ruby find the courage to escape? Is there any way she can save Fox too? And is there ever really an escape from the far-reaching influence of the Institute of the Sublime?
A gripping YA novel about an ordinary girl who is unsuspectingly inducted into a secretive modern-day cult.
It’s no surprise: cults are disturbing. People will mindlessly follow a leader, who will brainwash them to do things without question. The Boundless Sublime captures this element well, from preying on the weak minded with warmth, inclusion and promises, and descending into the dark heart of human manipulation.
Unfortunately, what it takes to progress into a cult is a character who fails to question the warning bells. In her desperation to escape her difficult home life filled with grief from her brother’s death, Ruby wants to be a part of a support network that makes her feel special and important. When she meets the beguiling Fox, she gets lured in by his kind words and his happy demeanour, and before she can question it, she’s in too deep. This happens within the first 20 pages, which had me suspending my disbelief at times with the extremely fast insta-love.
From the kind chatter of the Red House to their intellectual talks about life and their healthy food, Ruby soon gets reeled in to the mask of the cult. They believe that people are toxicants, polluting themselves with sugar, artificial foods and material items and people tying them down to the Earth. The way they view people are as mindless zombies who aren’t in control of their bodies. So the Boundless Sublime eat and drink food as close to the natural elements as possible.
Despite this being a massive warning bell to Ruby, who at this point starts to question whether it’s a cult, I wanted to yell at her: what looks like a cult, feels like a cult, behaves like a cult but isn’t a cult? Nothing! It was also frustrating how the romance with Fox was the key reason why she decided to leave her family behind and forget about her grieving mum. While Fox is curious like a child, he’s also clueless and has never heard of a straw before, it’s kind of disturbing. I would be running a mile at this grown teenager who seems completely clueless and perhaps reporting him to the authorities. But not Ruby.
The narrative is split up into three distinct parts – Ruby’s life before joining the Institute, being at the Institute and meeting the cult leader, and then becoming a fully fledged cultee. The transition between these parts was sudden and jarring, with a quick transition as she gets brainwashed and starts descending into darkness. The last part of the book was really thrilling, filled with twists and darkness that I didn’t see coming. Unfortunately, everything felt too easily resolved especially when some of the more disturbing actions had no repercussions.
From the warm inviting glow at the start to the disturbing events at the end of that book, The Boundless Sublime really does explore the dangerous depths of a cult. Unfortunately, it was rather unbelievable at times especially as the cult’s purpose is revealed. I definitely had to suspend my disbelief at times, and was really frustrated with Ruby’s character as she just went along with it. The romance was unconvincing as well and made me feel rather uncomfortable at a few points. I also wasn’t convinced that people would just go along with the crazy schemes of a cult leader, especially when he would pick women to “spend time with him in the Sanctum” and these women would feel blessed that they were picked.
With the gullible characters, naïve romance and the radical beliefs of the cult, The Boundless Sublime was a frustrating, yet compelling look into the life of cults. That’s what it takes to demonstrate how these cults can come to life and brainwash people.
Thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending me a review copy as part of this blog tour!
GUEST POST: Researching The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson
In 2014 I read Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear, a book about Scientology*. It’s an unbelievably gripping story, investigating the life of L Ron Hubbard, the growth and decline of Scientology as a religion, and the church’s current status. It was particularly interesting to me, because my grandparents were Scientologists. My great uncle Wal was the 70th person in the world to “go Clear”, and in my research I found a letter written by L Ron Hubbard himself, about what a great job my grandparents were doing spreading Scientology around Australia. Did I freak out when I read it? YES.
I should add here that I’m not a Scientologist, and my dad would want it made very clear that he isn’t one either, nor is my mum. I was raised without religion, but the idea of belief has always fascinated me.
So after reading Wright’s book, I fell down a research spiral – reading every book I could get my hands on, not just about Scientology, but about all the other strange things people believe – cults, religions, sects. I read stories of people who were born into cults and people who got sucked in. I read biographies of famous charismatic leaders like Charles Manson and David Koresh. The more I read, the more obsessed I became. I read about alien overlords and Illuminati conspiracies and hidden messages inside Beatles lyrics. I read about people who believe that the secret to becoming a five dimensional being is eating MacDonalds, and about people who were so busy being scared about satanic ritual abuse that they forgot to check if it actually existed. I read about some really, really bad people who abused their power and ruined the lives of others. I read about a lot of people who claimed they were the second coming of Christ.
I read an incredibly harrowing but fascinating book about how children deal with trauma, called The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry. I researched the ways in which people can get culty about lifestyle movements like paleo, breatharianism and yoga** (see this amazing article about Lululemon and murder). I researched the physical and mental effects of sleeplessness and extreme dietary restrictions. I researched alchemy and cobbled together some pseudoscientific jargon.
Then I picked it all apart, chose my favourite bits, and invented my own (fictional) cult – the Institute of the Boundless Sublime. If you know anything about cults and new religious movements (or if you’ve watched my webseries Let’s Talk About Sects: then you’ll recognize some of the traits and practices of the Institute. Suffice to say, my fictional cult doesn’t even come close to being as bonkers as some of the real-life ones.
* not saying Scientology is a cult, please don’t sue me.
**not saying yoga is a cult either, I love yoga. But there are a weird number of cults that have strong ties to yoga.
Check out the Let’s Talk About Sects webseries about Lili’s cult research
The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $19.99, available now.
About the Author
Lili Wilkinson is the author of nine books, including Scatterheart andPink. She established insideadog.com.au, the Inky Awards and the Inkys Creative Reading Prize at the Centre for Youth Literature, State Library of Victoria. Lili has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne, and now spends most of her time reading and writing books for teenagers. Her latest novel is Green Valentine.
Giveaway – Win a copy of the Boundless Sublime courtesy of the publisher!
Australian only – ends 20 August. Verified entries only.
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