Barbara's Reviews > Family

Family by Micol Ostow
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Sep 02, 11

bookshelves: novels-in-verse, ncbla
Read in September, 2011

** spoiler alert ** Based loosely on the Manson family who committed brutal murders in 1969, this novel in verse uses vivid descriptive language to explain how one teen, Mel, joins the cult. Fleeing from an abusive stepfather, her "uncle" Jack, and a mother who looked the other way during the abuse, Mel heads for the streets seeking love, freedom, and acceptance. She happens to meet Henry, a charismatic man who fills her head with drugs and dreams, and takes her back to his compound. There are rules at the compound, and Mel surrenders her driver's license and her will, beginnng her slow orbit around the sun that that Henry becomes for her. The author does a wonderful job of getting inside Mel's head as she describes how she finds comfort in the family that Henry has cobbled together. When family members must do degrading things such as begging or scavenging in the trash for food, she comforts herself by telling herself it's for the good of the family and at Henry's behest. Although she is drawn to one of the cult members, there are others who fill her with fear. Eventually, Henry's anger toward a man who promised him a recording contract rises, and some family members set out to wreak vengeance on the man. Here's where things went awry in my enjoyment of the book. Mel resists participating in the murders, even setting free one victim. While it's hard to understand how the victim could have managed to escape, given all the blood described in the book, it's even harder to understand how Mel could have summoned the courage or motivation to resist the commands of Henry. While the author provides passages that show her starting to question life on the compound, there is nothing to indicate that she would actually try to stop the brutality. The book left me with mixed feelings, stunned at some of the exquisite language, amazed at the author's ability to see into the heart of someone as broken as Mel, but ultimately disappointed by the ending. Still, this book certainly is worth reading and discussing, plumbing as it does the depths of loneliness of some and the predatory nature of others. It's certainly not for the faint-hearted.
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