cover image Uncultured


Daniella Mestyanek Young, with Brandi Larsen. St. Martin’s Press, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-28011-4

Mestyanek Young’s page-turning debut details her escape from the Children of God religious cult and her disillusionment after joining the U.S. Army. Born into the Children of God, the author endured relentless extreme hunger, as well as sexual and physical abuse at the hands of the “Uncles,” or predatory elder male cult members, throughout her childhood. “After fifteen years of... life in a religious prison camp,” she escaped, leaving behind her family and quickly discovering how ill-prepared she was for the outside world (“You don’t exist,” a secretary told Mestyanek Young when she first tried to enroll in public school as a teenager). The author landed a job at Chick-fil-A and finally got admitted to high school, where her guidance counselor encouraged her to dream big. Determined to prove her worth to the world, Mestyanek Young joined the Army but found it to be another institution in which powerful men asserted control over her and the threat of sexual violence was omnipresent. In Afghanistan, she contended with the horrors of war alongside discrimination, isolation, and sexual assault. Mestyanek Young searingly captures the fear and intensity that were her constant companions in the Children of God, and she draws smart parallels between the dogmatic “indoctrination” she encountered in both the cult and the Army, observing that “wherever there is programming, the code can be written wrong.” Readers won’t be able to put down this harrowing and enthralling memoir. (Sept.)