11 fascinating yet heartbreaking reads about real-life cults

We’ve found out the reason why people like sinister books…

Trigger warning: Please be aware that the following article contains written material about domestic and sexual abuse.

Some of our favourite books are about cults. It may sound sinister but hear us out, okay? We recently asked the almighty powers that be (a.k.a Google) why bookworms enjoy delving into dark reads and the answer makes total sense.

Many books that include darker subject matters focus on real-life issues. They’re not peppered in sugar-coated situations that could or couldn’t happen. Instead they’re full of heartbreaking events that real people have experienced.

So why do we like them? Well, whilst we ourselves may not be able to relate to the unthinkable acts of domestic and sexual abuse that happens in most of these stories, they do motivate us to help the victims that can.

We’ve rounded up 11 books about cults that will have you moved to tears. At the end of this post, we’ve also listed a number of different activist organisations and charities that you can get involved in to help victims and stop this kind of violence or abuse from happening again.

1. ‘After The Fire’ by Will Hill

“This is a story about power and corruption, and how charismatic figures can twist faith to serve their own ends. And ultimately, it’s a story about survival; more specifically, one girl’s way back after her world falls apart.”

‘After The Fire’ by Will Hill is a book that’s loosely based on The Waco siege that took place in 1995. It follows the life of Moonbeam and her upbringing in a fenced off community that’s run by a corrupted leader called Father John.

2. ‘The Girls’ by Emma Cline

“That was part of being a girl–you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.”

Emma Cline’s best-selling novel, ‘The Girls’ is a grisly story that was inspired by the Manson family. Evie is drawn into a group of girls after spotting them in town one summer. What she doesn’t yet know is that her fascination with Suzanne and the rest of her friends will soon lead to violence.

3. ‘Seed’ by Lisa Heathfield

“So I stand and stare at the flickering earth walls, with their overwhelming dank smell. I stand and stare at the mud above me and around me and under me. I stand and listen to the sound of my own breathing. Surely she will be back soon?”

Lisa Heathfield’s debut novel ‘Seed’ takes a look at the mindsets of cults. All Pearl has ever known is life in Seed – an isolated community that she was born into.  At 15, Pearl has been chosen as Papa S.’s companion. It’s a traumatic read, but one that’s received handfuls of praise for it’s emotional storyline.

4. ‘The Roanoke Girls’ by Amy Engel

“You can’t outrun what’s inside of you. You can only acknowledge it, work around it, try and turn it into something better. I may not know exactly where I’m headed, but this time I’m choosing my own destiny.”

Whilst, ‘The Roanoke Girls’ isn’t necessary about a cult. The errie farm where the story is set definitely feels like one. It’s a twisted read about abuse and manipulation, and is one of the most chilling YA novels ever.

5. ‘American Girls’ by Alison Umminger

“The real danger wasn’t violence like you saw on the television news, random and exciting—the real danger was the vampiric kind, the sort that you invited in because it told you everything you wanted to hear. Charles Manson could never have been Charles Manson if there hadn’t been girls by the dozen, ready and willing, scarred by the silent cruelty behind those carefully locked doors.”

‘American Girls’ tells the story of Anna. She’s currently engrossed in a school project, researching the murderous Manson family when she begins to realise she has more in common with the girls than she thought.

6. ‘The Polygamist’s Daughter’ by Anna LeBaron

“At age nine, I had forty-nine siblings. I didn’t play hopscotch with my school friends at recess or watch The Brady Bunch on television with my siblings. My mother didn’t pack my school lunch and my dad didn’t give me a hug at the door, wishing me a good day. Instead my parents, who were on the run from federal authorities abandoned me in Mexico for about a year, leaving me with a family I didn’t know.”

This haunting memoir is by Anna LeBaron – the daughter of murder and polygamist, Ervil LeBaron. Ervil was on the run from the FBI for killing everyone who wanted to leave his cult. It’s a chilling biography, but one that’s definitely worth the read.

7. ‘The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly’ by Stephanie Oakes

“Anger is a kind of murder you commit in your heart.” If this is true, I’m a daily murderer. My heart is more full of blood than I ever imagined.”

The Kevinian cult stole 12 years of Minnow’s life. They also took her hands. Now the cult’s Prophet has been murdered and Minnow’s compound set aflame, the FBI needs her to reveal the secrets that she’s most petrified of.

8. ‘The Chosen One’ by Carol Lynch Williams

“Think of it,” I said to Laura when I turned twelve. “I’m almost Mother Sarah’s age when she was married.”

Kayla has spent her whole life in a gated compound. Her father has three wives and she has 20 brothers and sisters. When the cult’s prophet tells Kayla she needs to marry her 60-year-old Uncle, she’s faced with a desperate choice.

9. ‘Escape’ by Carolyn Jessop, Laura Palmer

“How could any woman endure a life of misery with such a cheap promise of appreciation after her death?”

This haunting memoir tells Carolyn’s life, growing up in a polygamist sect. It documents her flight to freedom with her 8 children and what life was like for her in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

10. ‘Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders’ by Vincent Bugliosi, Curt Gentry

“Since we place so much value on human life, why do we glorify, in a perverse sort of way, the extinguishment of life? The answer to that question, whatever it is, is at least a partial answer to why people continue to be fascinated by Hitler, Jack the Ripper—Manson.”

Another gripping non-fiction read is ‘Helter Skelter’. Vincent Bugliosi was hired as the prosecuting attorney in Charles Manson’s trial. In the book we hear about what Vincent thinks motivated Manson to carry out the horrific murders, as well as the hold he had on his followers.

11. ‘A Journey to Waco: Autobiography of a Branch Davidian’ by Clive Doyle with Catherine Wessinger and Matthew Wittmer

“A certain stigma is attached to small groups. There are certain prejudices. I hope that the Brance Davidian survivors or anyone else who writes something on us will provide people with another side than the one they’ve been presented by the media, the government or whatever official version they have received, even the one from their own pulpits.”

20 years after The Waco siege, survivor, Clive Doyle walks readers through the fire and the devastating aftermath it cause in his biography, ‘A Journey To Waco’. If you enjoy ‘After The Fire’ by Will Hill, this read is a must.

These charities and organisations are working hard to stop violence and abuse from happening:

They also work with victims of violence and abuse. To find out more please visit the following websites.

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Written by Emma Matthews

Emma is a freelance journalist at MP.

When she’s not writing articles for Maximum Pop!, you’ll find her attending gigs, geeking out over the latest beauty products and reading feminist literature. Hermione is her favourite Harry Potter character - obviously.

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