Home by Cailean Steed

Home is a novel about someone who escapes a cult, and then ends up going back to try and save their sister. Zoe works in a coffee shop and lives in a little flat, trying to build a life she never imagined. When a man known as the Hand of God appears in her flat, the past returns to her, the cult of the Children she escaped and their compound, Home. What the Hand of God tells her makes her know she has to return, but going back won’t be simple.

The narrative is told from a split perspective, one from ‘present’ day Zoe and one from her past in the cult, as she navigates the horrors of her past and what the cult is still doing. The story is quite slow burn, almost entirely set with the ‘Home’ of the cult, so you slowly pick up their beliefs and lies. The cult itself is very focused on gender roles and has an almost Handmaid’s Tale vibe at times, and there’s a few moments in the book that suggest why people are drawn to it, which was quite interesting, particularly as it comes from the perspective of Zoe who was born into the cult.

The book is tense without quite being a thriller, as it is more focused on character and the realities of a cult. Personally, I would’ve liked to see more of Zoe’s life outside of the cult, as most of it is through flashbacks and glimpses, and it would be really interesting to think more about the impact of it on her, but the cult and the physical location it occupies is the focus of the book. The horrors are mostly alluded to rather than shown, so though a lot of the stuff that goes on is quite heavy, through a combination of Zoe’s lack of awareness and trauma, you don’t see everything, which means the book feels a bit more subtle than using shock tactics. There are some conversion therapy type parts that are quite intense though.

Home has a gripping story that explores a pseudo-religious cult and what happens when an escapee has to go back. I enjoyed the character stuff more than the thriller element and found that the book explores some interesting things. I liked the exploration of gender within the book, particularly how the cult frames a gender binary and then there seems to be a place for Zoe outside of that, but only in what turns out to be a horrifying and manipulative way. The fact that Zoe finds queer community outside of the cult is a nice touch too.