I think I'll have much to look forward to from Amy Christine Parker in the future, because "Gated" was probably the first YA novel I've read that tackled the issue of cults in such a complex, illuminating and enthralling story. It especially stands out with its attention to the mentality behind the community that Lyla's a part of, and ultimately what comes to be as she realizes the illuminating truth of events from the outside world.
The story takes a little time describing Lyla's background - the disappearance of her sister, the grief it caused her family, and the welcoming patronage of Pioneer, the leader of a secluded community Mandrodage Meadows. But as you learn Lyla's story, you quickly realize this is no true dystopian survival story where people are actually going to die and the world is ending with only a chosen few to survive, but rather the work of a charismatic, deeply secretive and dastardly community leader whom the locals call "Pioneer."
But Lyla's a smart cookie. She might be reluctant to shoot a gun, fall behind her peers in doing her share to contribute to the group, and be "tempted" more often times than not by factors of the outside world. In and above it all, she's a good person, and loyal to her family and friends. But the closer the days get to the proposed "end of the world" and the more she sees the darker side of Pioneer in his affirmations and punishments, Lyla's not so certain of anything.
Meeting Cody somewhat compounds on Lyla realizing that the world around her, as framed by Pioneer, isn't everything it seems. For the record, I liked Cody - I think he was a good character for the few go-betweens we see him in his interactions with Lyla. I bought Cody's chemistry with Lyla more than Will's (as Will was largely her "Intended"), though I think the romance part of the book was really too loose for me to connect to in general. What I really loved was the process of watching Lyla come to terms with the reality around her, and trying to convince the people she loves to get out while they can.
The last 20% of the novel had the strongest pacing and intrigue for me. I couldn't put the book down throughout my reading of this, but it really had me turning the pages in that part of it because of the losses, the emotional weight Lyla bears, and her desperation to get out while she could. It was harrowing, a tough examining of coming to terms, and I loved it.
The ending was a little rough around the edges in terms of tying up the threads established by the story, but I really enjoyed it and would highly recommend it for YA readers.
Overall score: 4/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Random House BFYR.