Astray by Amy Christine Parker
Ember, 2015, 352 pages
YA Psychological Thriller

Astray is the sequel to Amy Christine Parker’s Gated. Now that Pioneer’s community has been disbanded by local law enforcement, his trial approaches while Lyla tries to fit in at school and reconcile the life she had before with the life she has now. Parental members in Lyla’s former community cling to the life they had while outsiders begin to join them despite the larger community’s disdain for Pioneer’s followers. Lyla, meanwhile, is breaking down relationships with those still in the community, including her parents, while building up relationships with new people like Cody’s siFullSizeRender (1)ster and mother. Relationships of all kinds trouble Lyla, from her new therapist to her old friends. But at the center of it all is one relationship: Lyla and Pioneer.

Maybe I went into Astray with too high expectations, but I was admittedly disappointed by Gated‘s sequel. I read the two books about a year apart, so it’s possible my perception of the books had more to do with my personal growth or life or what have you than it had to do with the books themselves, but Gated would have probably been better off alone. The psychological intrigue and other aspects that made Gated special were absent in Astray. Where the subtle play of psychology influenced the events in Gated, a more heavy-handed approach made Astray feel less mature, less realistic, and less gripping than its parent.

I also struggled with Lyla. She came across as less likable and, while playing the new girl in school, became a cliché. In fact, she became, in many ways, a non-speculative-fiction version of Bella Swan, complete with the new frienemies, angst over dates, and difficulties with parents. And yes, these are all things that are often inherent in young adult novels. These are the things that real teens encounter on a daily basis. But with Gated‘s unique take on these challenges, Astray felt far too flimsy in comparison. Decisions Lyla made in Gated seemed, from my outsider perspective, generally sensible. Dangerous, perhaps, but still sensible in the bigger picture. Astray showed a side of Lyla that was far more willing to take risks for reasons that, from my perspective, simply weren’t worth those risks. So often the risk came down to death and, while this may have been an indication of Lyla’s delicate mental state, the logic didn’t follow.

The turn of events in Astray was not as believable as Gated, either. Where Gated was more a book of the mind, Astray falls more into the category of physical violence. Pioneer attacks less with psychological warfare — though he does that, too — but imagery of physiological harm shows up again and again: a broken toy owl, illness, torture, shrapnel. This jarring difference positions the books to appeal to different audiences. I absolutely support authors playing with audience intentions by series, but within a series, doing so can make books in a series feel disjointed.

On its own Astray might not be bad. It’s not bad as it is. It just can’t stand up to Gated.

❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤