Author Interview & Review: Those Who Prey by Jennifer Moffett
Cult books are on the rise within YA fiction and When We Prey is the perfect pick to dive in. Set in the 90s college scene, it’s an easy segway to the dark world is cults that many of the previous generations grew up watching in media. I checked in with author Jennifer Moffett on setting the stage and developing Emily, the main character swept up in The Kingdom. Check out her answers below and why Those Who Prey is a must read!
Those Who Preyby Jennifer Moffett
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
on November 10, 2020
Genres: Thriller, Young Adult
College life isn’t what Emily expected.
She expected to spend freshman year strolling through the ivy-covered campus with new friends, finally feeling like she belonged. Instead, she walks the campus alone, still not having found her place or her people so far away from home.
But then the Kingdom finds her.
The Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, offers everything Emily expected of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer in Italy on a mission trip. But the trip is not what she thought it would be. Emily and the others are stripped of their passports and money. They’re cut off from their families back home. The Kingdom’s practices become increasingly manipulative and dangerous.
And someone ends up dead.
At times unsettling and always riveting, Those Who Prey looks at the allure of cult life, while questioning just how far we’re willing to go to find where we belong.
Tell us about Emily. Where is she at in life when Those Who Prey opens?
Emily is in her second semester of college in Boston, far away from her hometown. Due to unfortunate circumstances with her former roommate, she still hasn’t found her way into a group of friends. But she’s strong-willed and refuses to give up on college life, so she throws herself into her classes. When she finally meets a group of amazing students who seem to have a lot in common with her, there is more to their motives behind the scenes than she realizes. And that’s where things get interesting.
What was it like researching for a contemporary story that centers around a cult? How did your research influence your worldbuilding?
In researching real campus cults, I learned they mostly operate in the same way, even though the doctrines they profess to follow vary wildly. The steps in Those Who Prey are almost identical to the playbook most cults use when recruiting new members. I focused on campus cults from the 1990s for this book, so it influenced how characters communicated (without cell phones or accessible internet) and what the world was like back then (basically unplugged 24/7). In some ways, it was easier to be isolated back then, but I also think people connected on a deeper and more intense level because when it was mostly in person (well, except for those late-night landline conversations).
What do you hope people will take from Those Who Prey?
I hope people will realize no one willingly “joins” a cult. It’s a process of seduction and deception that could happen to anyone. Brainwashing is 100% real and incredibly difficult to detect while it’s happening. There shouldn’t be a stigma on cult survivors. Most of them have to leave some of their closest friends and sometimes even family when they escape. That’s a scary leap. So I hope readers will feel a strong sense of empathy for people like Emily.
Like I said above, the contemporary historical setting is the perfect way to set up a cult. When people are less connected, they are more vulnerable, and Emily is feeling especially vulnerable. Far from her family, who she already feels like an outsider in, a victim of a tragedy, and with few friends, she is a natural target for The Kingdom.
The story leads you slowly through how people easily fall into the traps cult set and get stuck when concerns arise. I was completely sucked in and stayed up late to finish. Emily was easy to empathize with, and all I wanted was to give her a hug and tell her to run fast. Take the fall into The Kingdom with Those Who Prey!