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Mankato author draws on childhood experience to write YA novel on cults

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Mankato, Minn., author Megan Cooley Peterson
Author Megan Cooley Peterson’s young adult novel “The Liar’s Daughter” was inspired by her own experiences as a teenager in a church she believes is a cult.
Euan Kerr | MPR News

A teenage girl lives in a seemingly evil world. She is trying to work out what is true and what is fiction. That is the premise of a new young adult novel, "The Liar's Daughter."

In this passage, the girl, Piper, contemplates how her life has changed after being kidnapped from the loving family to which she desperately wants to return.

"They told me I am safe here. They told me this is my family now.

But I don't know these people. And this is not my home.

Voices come from behind me, warped, like a recording played backward. When I turn to the door they snap off.

"The world can be an evil place."

I conjure Mother's voice. It comforts me. We'll find each other again, like she promised."

The story about brainwashing jumps back and forth in time as Piper tries to figure out her place in the world. 

Peterson says the idea for the novel began as she was doing some research on cults, and it began bringing back memories of when she was in junior high.

“My family was in a kind of cult-like doomsday church that preached like the end of the world and end times," she said. "And I started thinking, 'OK, I think I could use my experiences and really put her in an actual cult.’"

Peterson grew up in Mankato, Minn., where she still lives. Her family wasn't religious, but the community of the church attracted them and they joined.

She said the church “was very controlling — no sports, they didn't want you to go to college when you graduated high school. Everything was about God and about preparing for the end of the world."

Mankato author Megan Cooley Peterson’s “The Liar’s Daughter”
Mankato author Megan Cooley Peterson’s young adult novel “The Liar’s Daughter”
Courtesy of Holiday House
Megan Cooley Peterson reads the opening chapter of The Liar's Daughter
by MPR

Peterson stopped going, and in time so did her family, but she wove her feelings from that episode into "The Liar's Daughter." 

The whole of Piper's story is told in the first person.

"It was like a little bit of a love letter to my former self, to my teenage self, and the stuff I've gone through in my life."

Megan Cooley Peterson will read from "The Liar's Daughter" at the Deep Valley Book Festival in Mankato on Saturday.

Peterson thanks social media for getting the book this far: She received 300 rejection letters for "The Liar's Daughter" but then sold it during a book pitch contest on Twitter.

She said she chose to write the story for younger readers who know what it's like to have parents make choices for their children.

"You move where they want, the religion you are involved in is the one that they chose for you," she said. "And so I thought it was a perfect situation for a young person to have navigate because she had no choice."