I think that a reader cannot help falling in love with a book. I may have an irrational affection for a particular title that, in other situations or other times in my life, I would have merely liked or perhaps even actively disliked. I therefore present you with The Special Ones by Em Bailey. It may not be perfect, but it's certainly psychologically gripping and positively dripping with atmosphere.
Esther hopes that Henry will return with a new Lucille soon. She and Felicity are alone at the farmhouse--well, not entirely alone. He is always watching them. Somehow ... he is always there. And Esther has to be perfectly the Esther--otherwise she'll be renewed like the other Felicitys and Lucilles. She doesn't know exactly what Renewal means, but she's pretty sure it's fatal.
So Esther does what she has to in order to stay alive. She welcomes the new Felicitys and Lucilles and ensures that they look just like their photograph--even if the new and renewed girl looks nothing like the one she's become. He tells them that they are vessels for the souls of four teens from the past: Henry, Esther, Lucille, and Felicity. These souls periodically choose new vessels--hence the renewal process, and each soul has helpfully left a book containing a description of their character and a code of conduct so that everything remains the same. Every evening, the Special Ones enter a locked chamber filled with the only modern technology on the farm: a bank of computers, servers, and monitors. This is how the Special Ones communicate with their disciples in the real world. Since they've lived so long (remember: one soul, different bodies!), the Special Ones have lots of wisdom for the people desperately wanting to know the secret to happiness or "Should I dump him?" You know, things that people ask strangers on the internet.
The people online want to know when the new Lucille will be there, and Esther has to make her as Lucille-like as possible. New Lucille has the wrong color hair and eyes, but that can be fixed. Her personality? Well, that's a bit harder.
Esther tries not to think about the world outside and the person she used to be, but as the possibility of her Renewal becomes more tangible, she can't help but wonder what it would be like to escape. To run away with Henry. To be free of him and his rules and the books and the photograph. And then Henry is Renewed.
Halfway through the story, the perspectives change. We still have Esther--now having escaped and reacclimating to her life outside the gates of the farm--but there's also his voice. He talks about his childhood, with elliptical references to the murder of his family and how he turned a vision into reality with his Special Ones. Esther has always been The One. Her spirit has guided him, but now she has escaped. He has to get her back--no matter what.
The Special Ones was deliciously creepy and sinister. The psychological aspects of the story are really top-notch. What would you do in order to keep yourself safe from an unknown menace? Would you aid and abet in kidnapping? Would you go along with someone's twisted rules in order to keep another safe?
Esther's difficulty in readjusting to her old/new life with her parents is also extremely well done, and slightly heartbreaking. She isn't the girl who disappeared, and she never will be, no matter how much they want everything to be just as it was. Her vilification by the media and public opinion is (unfortunately) quite realistic. The pace of the second half of the book is a bit rushed, which is really the only thing I can say against it. And I don't know why I have this feeling that it's not something I would have normally enjoyed, but I loved this all the same.
I'm disappointed in the relative lack of marketing being done for this title's US release. I'm as stoked as the next horror fan for Stephanie Perkins' There's Someone Inside Your House, but why isn't The Special Ones getting attention? It's got cults, it's got psychopaths, it's got ... hot dudes on motorcycles! Is it the Aussie thing? I mean, really. Everyone has to cut it out with the rah-rah-America mentality. It's not like only American authors write good YA. That's so ... I mean, there are a lot of adjectives I'd like to use here, but I like to keep this blog clean. So, ahem. Please pre-order or have your library order a copy of this book. Support Aussie authors! Aussies are fabulous *waves to Aussie friends*!
And whatever you do, don't ask advice from someone on the internet claiming to be a reincarnation of a 110 year old woman. Just ... don't do it.
I received an ARC of this title from the publisher at ALA Midwinter.