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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
Only a few 4-letter words with “u” in them conjure up more visuals than the word “cult.” And how accurate are those visuals, most of which are based on what we read in newspapers and online? T.O. Paine subtly explores the perceptions we have of cults in his first novel, The Teaching. It’s suspenseful fiction, but it is based on his own true-life experience of living in a cult, and surprise, surprise, he has some positive things to say about it, especially the fact that, for many, the experience is more about living in a community that is safer and kinder than the world that drove them to the cult in the first place. Teenaged Samantha had a very good reason to run away from her life in Las Vegas, but when the novel opens, Samantha is desperately trying to get away again, this time from the safety of The Teaching community. Why? Samantha does indeed disappear but while several characters are trying to find her for different reasons, T.O. Paine keeps us “on hold”, cleverly giving us a look at how and why being a part of The Teaching could be very pleasing to some who have come to believe they are in the best place. And after all, “belief is reality.”
The tension in The Teachingbuilds slowly at first. T. O. Paine does this by letting us get inside the heads of several characters, each questioning their place in the community, and each carrying the action forward at a controlled pace. But then suddenly…what they are thinking and uncovering takes second place in the plot. All hell breaks loose. Now, Paine barely gives us time to breathe as he unravels the clues and exposes the villain…or villains. Apart from absorption with the action and characters in The Teaching, I particularly enjoyed both the Epilogue and the insight the author gave us into his background. It made me think of just how many cult-like organizations are an accepted part of our everyday lives. We believe this or that religion, or lifestyle, or political or social movement is good and we adhere to it, and that belief is our reality.