- The Special Ones by Em Bailey
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-544-91229-8 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-328-69903-9 $17.99
Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 9–12
As one of the Special Ones, sixteen-year-old Esther lives a simple tech-free life on a remote farm with three other teens, all chosen by a mysterious leader who then forces them to give “spiritual guidance” to followers through chat rooms and an online store. One step out of line, though—not fixing the meal correctly, darning a sock wrong, or, the worst infraction, getting too close to another Special One — and the offender disappears from their midst, replaced by a new kidnapped teen. When Esther’s friend Harry gets his renewal notice, the two make a plan to escape, but their leader isn’t about to let them go easily. This is a deeply creepy and taut thriller, with the early chapters focusing on Esther and Harry’s conditioning of a new arrival, locking the girl in the cellar and starving her until she is compliant to undergo her transition to Special One. Esther’s narration proves her to be emotionally torn about the task, but she does the work anyway with a measured coldness; she’s a sympathetic yet sometimes unsettling character. Occasional chapters from the villain’s perspective give glimpses of his motivation; he is just as sinister as expected, and his menacing focus on Esther is particularly disturbing. A nail-biting scene brings about his comeuppance, but there’s still a sense of his imprint on Esther as her feelings for Harry border on obsession in turn. Fortunately for her, Harry returns her attention, but readers will be left wondering if there’s something not quite right with their happy ending.