Book: “Those Who Prey” by Jennifer Moffett
Publishing Info: Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, November 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: Sadie meets The Girls in this riveting debut psychological thriller about a lonely college freshman seduced into joining a cult—and her desperate attempt to escape before it’s too late.
College life isn’t what Emily expected. She expected to spend freshman year strolling through the ivy-covered campus with new friends, finally feeling like she belonged. Instead, she walks the campus alone, still not having found her place or her people so far away from home. But then the Kingdom finds her.
The Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, offers everything Emily expected of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer in Italy on a mission trip. But the trip is not what she thought it would be. Emily and the others are stripped of their passports and money. They’re cut off from their families back home. The Kingdom’s practices become increasingly manipulative and dangerous.
And someone ends up dead.
At times unsettling and always riveting, Those Who Prey looks at the allure of cult life, while questioning just how far we’re willing to go to find where we belong.
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
Back when I was at the University of Minnesota for my undergrad, between classes I’d spend time in the student union, usually getting a bagel for lunch in the food area where a number of student groups had set up tables trying to find new members. The table that always made me uncomfortable was a far right Evangelical Christian group whose name I can’t remember, as they always had the same rotation of about five people who had interesting signs and information on display. Around Halloween it was about devil worship. At Christmas it was how Santa=Satan. Sometimes it would be pamphlets on the sins of homosexuality or sex. I never saw them talking to anyone, but I did think about how they could probably influence a lonely student or two who hadn’t adjusted to college life yet, who just wanted a connection as they sought out a bagel. As I read “Those Who Prey” by Jennifer Moffett, I kept having flashbacks to that table, and one specific girl with whom I made eye contact on more than one occasion, and how my disgust at the time didn’t see the blatant predatory behavior of the group I was constantly passing as I went for my lunch.
“Those Who Prey” is part coming of age story, part thriller, and Moffett is able to pull out the best of both genres to make a genuinely disturbing tale about identity and manipulation. Our protagonist, Emily, reads like a very realistic college freshman who has found herself in a new environment, and who hasn’t quite found her place. Moffett slowly reveals aspects of her background and personality that make her ripe for the picking when it comes to Kingdom, an on campus Christian group that brings her into their organization with promise of friendhip and salvation (and love, as it is the charming Josh who first compels her). I thought that Moffett really did her due diligence to show how the average student who may be isolated and lonely could be so easily taken in with a group like this, and really demonstrated the frog in the boiling water aspect of how Kingdom, and real life campus cult groups, depend upon.
By the time Emily gets to Italy on her ‘mission’, and things really take a turn, the groundwork has been laid out seamlessly. Moffett clearly did her homework about these groups and what they do to get their members, and what they then put them through. While most of the other characters weren’t really given deep dives, as it’s through Emily’s perspective, you still got a sense as to how many of them, especially the ones you wouldn’t expect, would be trapped in this situation. It felt real, and therefore VERY unsettling. We also start to see a mystery unfold involving Kara, the member who has been assigned to Emily, who doesn’t seem as invested in the program as other people are. Kara’s plot line is what gave this story a mystery element to throw in with the creepy cult vibe, and while I kind of guessed what her deal was pretty early on, there were still plenty of puzzle pieces that I wasn’t working out until Moffett was ready for me to do so. I needed to know what Kara’s deal was, I needed to know what Kingdom had in store for their members, and I NEEDED to know if Emily was going to get out. All of this kept me totally ensnared, which was great.
“Those Who Prey” is creepy and all too realistic. I heard that some of these groups have rebranded a bit in hopes of still bringing in members. Hopefully some people who read this book will see the similarities and steer clear, no matter how lonely they may feel while living on campus.
Rating 8: A suspenseful coming of age thriller, “Those Who Prey” kept me on the edge of my seat.