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See you in September by Charity Norman

Cassy leaves her home and family in London for a holiday in New Zealand with her boyfriend, Hamish. It’s only going to be a short trip; she’ll be back in September just in time to be her best friend’s bridesmaid. After that, she has her final year of law in front of her. Cassy is bright, happy and she’s looking forward to the holiday.

But in New Zealand, Cassy discovers she’s pregnant and tells Hamish. His commitment to her isn’t as strong as she had hoped. They’re arguing at the same time as trying to hitch a ride to Taupo; the rain is pelting down, it’s getting dark, they break up and Cassy walks away. A white van pulls up. It’s full of friendly young people and Cassy gets in. Even better, they invite her to stay at their place for the night at Gethsemane, which Cassy discovers is an idyliically situated, self-sustaining community surrounded by a lake and situated beneath Mount Tarawera. Cassy decides to stay on for a few days. What does she have to lose?

What is so powerful about this novel is the way Cassy is so subtly indoctrinated into a cult. The reader experiences through Cassy’s eyes just how wonderful it is to be part of a community where the basic guiding principles are sustainability, positivity and the bonds of communal life. She falls in love with the driver of the white van which picked her up, he already has a daughter and he encourages her have the child. They will be a family. And like everybody else, she is captivated and believes wholeheartedly in the leader Justin Calvin, who is magnetic in his charisma.

Cassy is no fool, she asks questions but she is more and more drawn in and gradually loses her independence and sense of self. She changes from the feisty, intelligent girl who loved to joke with her sister and friends to a smiling and ‘positive’ replica of the women around her. She severs ties with her family, she hands over her inheritance. The dual narrative used clearly illustrates the effect Cassy’s failure to return home and final rejection of them has on her family whose mild concern when she doesn’t contact them turns into growing unease followed by despair and feelings of helplessness.

Placed throughout the novel are extracts from ‘The Cult Leader’s Manual’ which provides further insight into the indoctrination methods. This is a powerful, challenging and insightful novel. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Paddy Richardson

Allen & Unwin