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Book Cover Image: The Believing Game by Eireann CorriganTitle: The Believing Game
Author: Eireann Corrigan
ISBN: 9780545299831
No. of Pages: 387
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult

”A private academy. A cult leader. A girl caught in the middle.

After Greer Cannon discovers that shoplifting can be a sport and sex can be a superpower, her parents pack her up and send her off to McCracken Hill-a cloistered academy for troubled teens. At McCracken, Greer chafes under the elaborate systems and self-help lingo of therapeutic education. Then Greer meets Addison Bradley. A handsome, charismatic local, Addison seems almost as devoted to Greer as he is to the 12 steps. When he introduces Greer to his mentor Joshua, she finds herself captivated by the older man’s calm wisdom. Finally, Greer feels understood.

But Greer starts to question: Where has Joshua come from? What does he want in return for his guidance? The more she digs, the more his lies are exposed. When Joshua’s influence over Addison edges them all closer to danger, Greer decides to confront them both. Suddenly, she finds herself on the outside of Joshua’s circle. And swiftly, she discovers it’s not safe there.”

Thoughts: To teens like Greer and Addison and their group of friends, all with extreme addictions, Joshua’s self-love talk and enforcement of positive thinking is a highly attractive alternative to the more mundane and elaborate rituals of McCracken Hill. However, Greer soon discovers that all is not as it seems within Joshua’s inner circle and must decide what she wants to do and what she is able to do with this knowledge. In The Believing Game, Eireann Corrigan explores what it is like to become drawn into a cult and the lengths to which cult leaders will go to maintain their followers. What follows is a chilling journey of love and loss, betrayal and friendship among a group of teens most in need of help.

Even though Greer talks tough and appears to have no real sense of shame, there are hints of vulnerability that prevent a reader from lumping her in with every other rebelling teenager with parental issues. Her love for Addison highlights her softer side and shows a girl who is craving to be normal and to achieve the love and affection afforded to others. Yet, she is refreshingly self-aware, something which prevents her from being a total cliche. Her recognition of the fact that McCracken is truly the last hope for her, as well as her forced willingness to follow the rules and play the game as set out by the school, is honest and insightful and contains none of the self-righteousness that she could have so easily had. Greer is just what she appears to be – a teen with a troubled past who wants to have a good time but knows that if she is going to succeed as an adult, she needs to get her act together.

Joshua is the creepiest type of bad guy. He looks innocuous, and taken at face value, his words provide much-needed hope and inspiration to a group of teens with very few chances left in life. Like Greer, a reader will immediately know that something is not quite right with Joshua and his influence over Addison. Yet, also like Greer, one will continue to hope that it is just one’s imagination and that there is no insidious plot to be found. However, those niggling feelings of doubt never fade but grow stronger as Joshua begins to slip and show his true motivations. What follows is an intense journey as Greer slowly begins to understand the truth and rushes to save her friends and, most importantly, Addison from Joshua’s grip.

While Joshua’s true beliefs are ultimately laughable, the feelings of frustration and fear that surround those caught up in his net are strikingly real. Even though his ultimate goal may cause laughter, the steps he is willing to take to defend his vision are terrifying in their extremity. A reader is quickly caught up in Greer’s inability to extract herself or her friends from his clutches. Ms. Corrigan’s stark but effective writing makes it all too easy to understand how people can be drawn into a cult and how truly difficult it is to step away from it.

The Believing Game is the best type of psychological thriller and a very refreshing change of pace within the young adult genre. Greer and Addison are two regular kids struggling with very real demons, and not of the paranormal variety. There is no love triangle. The world is not post-apocalyptic and does not require superhuman intelligence or other mutations in order to survive. Joshua is subtly menacing and deliciously creepy, while the unraveling of the mystery surrounding Joshua’s motives makes for an intense and thrilling read. The Believing Game is a fantastically creepy and quick read to help while away those gloomy winter afternoons.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to Netgalley and to Scholastic for my review copy!

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