The best books about children growing up in cults

Who am I?

Because I was brought up in a cult, I'm determined to serve as a voice for children. I'm an advocate for assisting children born into cults or taken into them in finding their true identities outside of the indoctrination they received. It's important to me that there is a network of support available to those who want to learn how to lead a balanced life. As a post-cult adult, I went on to study creative writing and art at the University of Tennessee. I have a deep appreciation for poetry as a form of expression, and I recommend using it as a method to work through the complex range of feelings.

I wrote...

Cult Child

By Vennie Kocsis,

Book cover of Cult Child

What is my book about?

The book Cult Child is based on the author Vennie Kocsis's actual life experiences. When she was only three years old, her mother was recruited into Sam Fife's Move of God, one of America's most violent cults. Cult Child is an in-depth look at the author's childhood near-death experience as a result of abuse and the author's experience of growing up in two remote cult compounds. Cult Child transports the reader to Sila's world.

"Poignant, gripping and ultimately triumphant, Vennie Kocsis' Cult Child will leave you inspired by the pure strength of will that children use to cope themselves through trauma. Her fortress is no bigger than the space between her ears; but through quiet internal resistance, Sila halts her opponents and outlasts their ten-year siege." Dolon Hickmon, author of 13:24

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Born into the Children of God: My life in a religious sex cult and my struggle for survival on the outside

Why did I love this book?

David Berg was a sexual offender who preyed on children. One of these children is responsible for writing the book Born Into the Children of God. The story of Natacha is riveting and physically painful, and it aptly illustrates the resiliency that children must possess in order to triumph over a number of traumatic experiences. This book raises awareness about the harms that are done to children who are raised in religious communities that are insular and fundamentalist.

Because I am familiar with the challenges of putting one's thoughts on paper about traumatic experiences from their youth, this book had a profound effect on me. This book is one that I would recommend to others due to the multifaceted insight it provides into the process by which child molesters in cults groom adults to the point of convincing them to take part in the abuse of their own children.

By Natacha Tormey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Born into the Children of God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Natacha Tormey was born into the infamous religious cult known as The Children of God. Abused, exploited, and brainwashed by 'The Family', Natacha's childhood was stolen.

Born to French hippy parents attracted to the religious movement by the unusual mix of evangelical Christianity, free love and rejection of the mainstream, from an early age Natacha was brainwashed to believe she had a special destiny - that she was part of an elite children's army bestowed with superpowers that would one day save the world from the Anti-Christ.

Torn away from their parents, Natacha and her siblings were beaten on a…

Cult Girls

By Natalie Grand, Cassandre Bolan (illustrator), N. Scott Robinson (editor)

Book cover of Cult Girls

Why did I love this book?

It was a brilliant decision on Natalie's part to create a graphic novel that lays out the many facets and layers that make up the dynamics of cults. It has been a pleasure for me to get to know Natalie. A former member of the Jehovah's Witnesses, she is now a dynamic and independent individual. This graphic novel explores a wide variety of aspects of the tactics used by Jehovah's Witnesses, including shunning, the reasons why cult family members will disavow non-cult family members, and a great deal more. This seemed to me to be an excellent option for storytelling geared for minds that have a tendency to gravitate toward visuals.

By Natalie Grand, Cassandre Bolan (illustrator), N. Scott Robinson (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cult Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cult Girls based on a true story, tells the story of Talia and her friends as they struggle with growing suspicions that their faith is a patriarchal religious cult. It's a story of tremendous courage and female empowerment as Talia as her friends successfully free themselves told through a feminist lens with cautionary humor. Read this first place BookFest award winning Girls and Women YA Graphic novel.

The Handmaid's Tale: Graphic Novel

By Margaret Atwood, Renee Nault (illustrator),

Book cover of The Handmaid's Tale: Graphic Novel

Why did I love this book?

The very first time I got my hands on this book, I read it in its entirety. It was the visuals that drew me in. It was almost as though the novel that inspired the Hulu series and the pages of the graphic novel were one and the same thing. It is one of the items in my book collection that I cherish the most.

When my teenaged granddaughter picked up this book, she also read it in a single sitting. While I was milling about the house, I looked in the living room and saw that she was completely absorbed in its pages. This graphic novel tells an engrossing story, and whether you are a collector of all things GN or enjoy reading graphic novels, adding this book to your collection is an absolute necessity.

By Margaret Atwood, Renee Nault (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Handmaid's Tale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The stunning graphic novel adaptation • A must-read and collector’s item for fans of “the patron saint of feminist dystopian fiction” (New York Times).
Look for The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale
In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future, environmental disasters and declining birthrates have led to a Second American Civil War. The result is the rise of the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian regime that enforces rigid social roles and enslaves the few remaining fertile women. Offred is one of these, a Handmaid bound to produce children for one of Gilead’s commanders. Deprived of her husband, her child, her…

Book cover of Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over

Why did I love this book?

I had the privilege of spending some time with Dr. Lalich, and during that time I found her to be witty, funny, and extremely interested in the experiences of children who were raised in cults. As someone who grew up in a cult, I am grateful that she spent the time to concentrate on the children, as they are the ones who almost always fare the worst. This book chronicles the lives of several people who were raised under the sway of repressive religions. I am honored to be one of those people.

Dr. Lalich conducted the first in-depth study of its kind, conducting interviews with sixty-five individuals who were either born into or raised in thirty-nine distinct cultic groups spread across more than a dozen countries. Many of these individuals eventually made the decision to leave the cultic lifestyle on their own, which is something that is very unique to the research and their accounts. Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over is chock full of original and ground-breaking research that has been compiled into a well-crafted collection of real-life cult child survivor stories.

By Janja Lalich, Karla McLaren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Escaping Utopia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We think of cults as bizarre, inexplicable, or otherworldly places that only strange people inhabit, but cults and other abusive and high-demand groups (and relationships) are actually quite commonplace. In fact, the behaviors, social pressures, and authoritarian structures that create cults exist to a greater or lesser extent in every human relationship and every human group.

In the first in-depth research of its kind, the author interviewed sixty-five people who were born in or grew up in thirty-nine different cultic groups spanning more than a dozen countries. What's especially interesting about these individuals is that they each left the cult…

Synanon Kid

By C.A. Wittman,

Book cover of Synanon Kid

Why did I love this book?

In this novel, which is set in the late 1970s, the protagonist, Celena, is abducted by two extremist women who are members of the Synanon cult. She would later find out that one of those women was her mother, whom she had not seen for more than two years at the time of the kidnapping. The culture of Synanon was one of abuse and deviation. This book packs a punch, and its story is an important one in the ongoing battle against cults that recruit parents to give over their children under the guise of improving their quality of life.

The accounts of survivors of the troubled teen industry are extremely upsetting due to the cultic practices of the industry, which include shunning, abuse, the use of forced labor, sexual assault, and more. It is essential to place a hold on this book because it provides one of the most in-depth investigations of the beginnings of Synanon, which later morphed into Straight Inc., spread into churches, and advocated for severe behavioral modification to be inflicted upon teenagers. Troubled teen institutions still exist, modeled after Synanon, whose roots began in the 1950s.

By C.A. Wittman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Synanon Kid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I told you mothers do not matter here. We are all your mothers. Isn't that better than just having one?"

An ordinary weekend becomes surreal when Celena's mother, whom she has not seen for years, returns to claim her. Told that she is going to visit a place called Synanon, six-year-old Celena leaves her native Los Angeles on a bus for a secluded ranch setting in Northern California where the residents are strangely bald and dressed uniformly in overalls.

Coming to realize this eerie institution is to be her new home, Celena is ultimately forced to develop a new strength…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in cults, dystopian, and women?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about cults, dystopian, and women.

Cults Explore 49 books about cults
Dystopian Explore 521 books about dystopian
Women Explore 541 books about women