Anna van Praag
A Very Special Girl
When a group becomes a cult
In A Very Special Girl, Alicia looks back on the summer camps she used to go to with her whole family. At first, she loves it there. “The longing to return next year started when we were on the plane back home.”
But it becomes increasingly clear that many of the things that happen at the summer camp aren’t as innocent as they seem. The concept of cults isn’t mentioned in so many words in this book by Anna van Praag, which is based on true autobiographical events, but the group certainly has many of the characteristics of such a community.
Alicia is fascinated by Sofia, the movement’s leader, a charismatic figure who is firmly in charge. Guru Sofia has gained many followers, partly because of the way she makes them feel special and chosen. Alicia’s dad responds to this attention, but her mum is less susceptible, which causes tension in the family.
The group meetings at the summer camp are often very intense, as Sofia mercilessly forces participants to take a long, hard look at themselves. The reader sees this through the eyes of the initially unsuspecting Alicia. It is only later, when Alicia comes to realize that such behaviour is not in fact normal, that the true, cult-like nature of the group becomes clear.