Gated is a pretty good, fairly solid and easy to read novel. It's not your typical YA book, though it does contain some of the tropes found in that age group (love triangles, love at first sight, etc.). It's got more than its fare share of action, especially as it nears the final few chapters but Parker relies on introspection, psychological thrills, and a slow build rather than a nonstop action-packed adventure to see her story through. Lyla is caught between the home she has known for ten years and increasing evidence that not all is as it seems in Mandrodage Meadows, which add up to a intense and exciting story.
Parker has a simple style, which fits both Lyla's narration and the kind of secluded life she leads in the Doomsday cult. It's easy to get caught up in the first person perspective, and the subtle hints and allusions of wrongness build up naturally as Lyla learns more about her own community. The beginning is a bit dry and slow-moving, but Parker shows enough potential that reader will be engaged enough to keep reading until it gets good. The story really hits its stride just after the halfway mark, when Lyla is exposed to life outside of the Compound and begins to truly think for herself.
Breakdown by percentage:
1% - 50% - not enough going on
50% - 90% - just enough going on
90% - 100% - too much going on
I could have done without the romances. I could have done without the love triangle between the boy Pioneer picks for her and the mysterious boy on the outside. Honestly, if the story had been solely about Lyla breaking free from the severe "us vs. them" mentality ingrained over 10 years, it would've been a tighter, more engrossing read. It also would have been far more original. All of the love stuff feels so unnecessary, and so reminiscent of other YA novels.
Pioneer is both a benefit and a detriment to how Gated's story is carried. In the beginning, his mystery, allure, and power over the group is unexplained and unquestioned. The way he approached Lyla's family when they were weak, scared, and isolated is a perfect example of what kind of man he is - opportunistic, cunning, and without morals. He camouflages his hunger for power for years under a facade of geniality, until Lyla begins to act differently than he would wish. His break down from pillar of the community to unhinged antagonist is authentic, but could use some polish. I main issue is that the story went on, and his control started to slip, he never really became more than a one-note villain. Parker never really shows why he is the way he is, or why he created Mandrodage Meadows -- whether it was for pure control, to swindle the families, etc. I don't know what led to his creation of the cult, and that felt like an oversight.
All in all, Gated had a few flashes of brilliance, but the one-note villain, the slow start, and the insane last few chapters took away from the overall impression. The story had been building neatly over the course of the novel, but I think the ending got away from Parker. There just way too much going on, much too fast. Simplifying the climax would render the whole more believable and fit with the rest of the novel better. That said, Gated makes for a complete diversion. It's a fast-reading, engaging story unlike most other YA novels out there.