The Believing Game is a novel that deals with teens who are the traditional ‘problem children.’ There are druggies, alcoholics, thieves, and many other issues in McCracken Hill, a private academy that helps teens who have issues. As the book begins we meet Greer, who is being arrested, or at least detained for a repeated shoplifting scheme at a local store. Greer steals for the fun and thrill of it, not for the things she actually needs. Greer’s parents send her to McCracken Hill to try to fix her problems. McCracken Hill seems to be a pretty good place, in several novels like this that I’ve read the teens that end up in places like this become victims of many different abuses because of the staff at the institutions. It’s nice to see McCracken Hill portrayed as a place that actually does try to help teens instead of another place of torture. In the beginning Greer has a hard time fitting in; she has no friends and hates it. Then an amazing thing happens, or rather an amazing boy named Addison. Addison is all she ever wanted in a guy, he’s handsome, sweet, kind, and he really likes her. With Addison by her side, Greer opens up to some of the other teens in the school and actually makes friends, and seems to make some progress on her problems. She talks to the others to learn why they are there and finds out that they all have their own problems and that no one is perfect. After a few weeks, Addison decides to introduce Greer to his mentor and best friend Joshua. Joshua helped Addison kick his alcoholism and according to Addison leads him in the right direction. Joshua is a middle aged black man who loves shock value. He accuses Greer of being a racist right off as soon as he sees her. He also immediately starts talking about she and Addison’s sex life while Addison is off getting pizza. Red alarms go off but Greer is so in love with Addison that she decides to put up with Joshua’s antics. This is a huge mistake of course. As the novel continues the reader follows Greer and her friends down a very dangerous path. Joshua is insane, and tries to make a cult out of the teens. He has gotten into the good graces of the school as a mentor and so he has free reign to ‘help’ the teens. Joshua uses psychological abuse to brainwash the teens, at first some of them are skeptical, and others downright unbelieving but most of them begin to follow his ‘teachings.’
The Believing Game does a good job of illustrating how a young person, even though they are intelligent, might fall for the schemes of someone like a cult leader. The novel demonstrates that by using manipulation and extended emotional and psychological abuse someone could make even the smartest of teens believe the extraordinary lies they might tell. There were many parts of this novel that made me shake my head in disbelief but at the same time I could see where these teens who had been brainwashed might believe something like what Joshua was telling them. There were a few things that went too far with this novel such as the field trip the teens are allowed to take with Joshua and the pure absurdity of the ideas he came up with in the end. It was painful to read this novel and see how these teens who were already messed up, began to trust someone who was going to lead them even further astray and cause them much more harm than good. I’ll give this one 3.5 stars, but only because it’s a little unbelievable in places.