The Flock, by J. Todd Scott was Book Lovers Cafe’s November book club selection. It was not the one I voted for, but it was already in my kindle library from a previous Amazon First Reads. Book club seems to be the only way I care enough to read those even though they are usually pretty good. Usually.
This one has an interesting premise. It’s the story of a former cult member making a new life for herself and her daughter long after her cult days. She has a whole new identity, but her old life catches up to her and the rest of the book takes us back to the remaining bits of the cult. Sounds interesting, right?
I’m not sure why, but I expected this to be more firmly rooted in reality (despite being fiction). Like one of those biographies of real former cult members. A tell all type thing. It is not. Stuff that the cult believes in starts happening. Birds are falling out of the sky dead, the world is on fire, and a kid is performing miracles. The story jumps between time periods and narrators and it’s not really difficult to follow, but I found myself having a hard time caring about some of them. Meh. Maybe my reception of this book is a result of my expectations. I expected it to be something it never claimed to be and I didn’t particularly enjoy what it is.
⭐️⭐️⭐️ for me. Not bad really, despite my gripes. Some of my book club really enjoyed it. It just wasn’t for me. If you like thrillers with a religious/cult flare, it might be right up your alley.
So let me tell you about this book. But first, let me share a tangentially related tidbit from my life.
The other day, I was munching on some blueberries and came across probably the biggest blueberry I’d ever seen. I actually chose this pint because it had unusually large blueberries compared to the others on the display. I snapped a couple pictures of it and shared them with a friend in messenger, whose response encouraged me to do the thing I felt was probably silly and post it for everyone to see. My big ass blueberry made it to my Instagram and FB and I spent the next half hour looking every time I got a comment or a like. And I thought about this book.
At the beginning of this month, Megadeth released a new album. One of the catchier tunes is called Celebutante, which felt like a theme song for this book. Every time I hear this song, I think about Mickey and Gemma and this review that I’m finally getting around to writing. I think about these young women and their melted wings.
Like Me, by Hayley Phelan follows the journey of Mickey, a 19 year old aspiring model as she navigates her way to what she considers success. Her career is pretty much stalled and she is getting desperate to get her moment in the spotlight. We get a glimpse of her superficial friendships and lifestyle choices concerning men and excess. We see her carefully composing her social media posts and then comparing herself to popular Instagram model Gemma. She is obsessed with Gemma to the point that she memorizes her photos and tracks her activities. She knows where to find her at any time of any day. She talks about Gemma as if she knows her and eventually her friends call out her obsession, but in a teasing sort of way. It took a bit for anything to really start happening. According to my notes, it took me until around 36% to be fully invested.
At this point I was speculating different paths this story could take. I felt the tension rising as Mickey got deeper into her Gemma fixation. At first, it just seemed like an innocent celebrity crush thing. But will it become more? Mickey seems the type who could easily go full on stalker. I found myself hoping that would happen. The clues continue to point in that direction. One day she runs into Gemma and her photographer boyfriend in public. It is painted as a chance meeting, but is it really? Anyway, the boyfriend comments on the near familial resemblance between Mickey and Gemma and everything starts to spiral from there.
The day the boyfriend calls Mickey to do a photo shoot is the beginning of the end of life as she knows it. He is a major creep, but like many young girls who are desperate to break into modeling, Mickey leans hard into his creepiness. You’ll do anything for fame, célebutante. His photos prove to be wildly popular, and Mickey is still comparing herself to Gemma and seeking validation by means of a like or follow or anything.
So Gemma goes missing and it’s like Mickey is the only one who notices? Are they actually the same person and this whole story is one of them going through the motions and imagining that they’re watching it happen to someone else? There’s the scene where Mickey is talking to her friends and she keeps mentioning Gemma but they ask her who Gemma is. And the way Benoit and his crew look around awkwardly when she mentions Gemma. Feeling like this whole story is Mickey’s spiraling mental health.
Taken from my notes in Book Lovers Cafe
Solid read for me. Lots to unpack. I found it to be quite relevant to today’s social media focused world and highly relatable, even to those of us who just want people to look at our big ass blueberries. I will say this, if you have access to the audiobook, I highly recommend it. Perfectly cast narrator who effectively portrays the main character’s deteriorating mental health throughout the book. I don’t want to give away the whole book, so I won’t answer any of those questions. It kept me guessing and I think the narrator really added to that experience. One of my guesses was correct. Read it and discover it for yourself!
There was a lot that I liked about this book. Every time the main character thought he had figured it out, new info would pop up and he’d be back where he started. And then when the case was considered solved, the reader gets a glimpse at what really happened. But is that what really happened? Or just Andy’s writer brain writing up a more interesting ending? Either way, I find both endings satisfying enough.
I also enjoyed the idea of a mystery book author who lives out a real life mystery and makes all the mistakes he’d never write into his books. There were so many times I found myself saying “Oh, Andy…no….” and the like. Which. Is fun.
That last line cracked me up. Andy doesn’t know when to quit.
⭐️⭐️⭐️.5 stars for me. This was an Amazon First Reads choice recently. If you picked it up because it was free, maybe read it? It’s short and fast paced and pretty good.