Monday, October 10, 2011

Book Review: Family by Micol Ostow

Title: Family
Author: Micol Ostow
Reading Level: Young Adult
Publisher: Egmont USA
Hardcover, 376 pages
Date Published: April 26, 2011
Description (Taken from Goodreads):
i have always been broken.
i could have.
and maybe it would have been better if i had.

It is a day like any other when seventeen-year-old Melinda Jensen hits the road for San Francisco, leaving behind her fractured home life and a constant assault on her self-esteem. Henry is the handsome, charismatic man who comes upon her, collapsed on a park bench, and offers love, a bright new consciousness, and—best of all—a family. One that will embrace her and give her love. Because family is what Mel has never really had. And this new family, Henry’s family, shares everything. They share the chores, their bodies, and their beliefs.  And if Mel truly wants to belong, she will share in everything they do. No matter what the family does, or how far they go.

Told in episodic verse, family is a fictionalized exploration of cult dynamics, loosely based on the Manson Family murders of 1969. It is an unflinching look at people who are born broken, and the lengths they’ll go to to make themselves “whole” again.
Family is one of the most disturbing and terrifying, yet oddly captivating, books that I have ever read. As someone who only knows the barest facts about the Manson family murders, Micol Ostow’s take on 17 year old Mel’s descent into cult life is haunting and creepy. We get to see her slowly, but surely lose herself to this notion of family; which is ludicrous and all kinds of messed up, but for someone who has come from so little and so much pain, it makes sense to Mel.

I couldn’t see the appeal or allure that Henry (the Charles Manson-esque figure) has. It’s difficult to understand why so many people would follow him willingly and look at him like a Jesus Christ figure. Mel, Sherry, Leila, Junior, and all the people we don’t hear from view Henry as a savior and a preacher.

Ostow solidifies this fact with her episodic verse, having Henry’s name, His references, be the only things that stand out with capitalization. It’s to ensure that he reader knows, without a doubt, that Henry is running the show. He has essentially brainwashed these people, forced their lives to revolve around him, and has put them into a drug-induced stupor at times, to benefit His own wants and needs.

Mel’s life has become the Henry show and she’s willing to do whatever He wants, whenever He wants. It’s incredibly sad. Mel’s life before Henry was miserable, but her life after Henry isn’t really a step up at all. At times, I wanted to hug her, but then other times I wanted to slap some sense into her; yell at her so she could see what’s going on, that she has been indoctrinated into a desolate cult that’s only purpose is to serve this Henry. What she’s experiencing isn’t love and even though a part of Mel knows that, she doesn’t care. Her desire to be wanted and accepted – even if it’s false – overrides the voice in the back of her mind that’s telling her not to trust her situation.

Family is incredibly disturbing with its back and forth from the slow, despondent fall into cult life, to its hints of the danger that’s to come. Ostow has taken a story that many have at least the vaguest idea of and expanded upon it, dropped the reader into an endlessly forlorn situation and done so splendidly. Episodic verse works in this situation, making each day more painful and fractured. Knowing that things are going to end in a bloodbath makes Mel’s life that much more affecting and I was glued to the page.

Opening line: i have always been broken. ~ pg. 3

Favorite lines/passages:
when i was twelve years old, i drowned.
    luckily, it didn’t take. ~ pg. 6

     infinity has always felt impossible to me. there is
nothing, after all, that doesn’t end. ~ pg. 10
*This review is my honest opinion and I received no monetary compensation from it.

Find Micol Ostow online:

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Jessica(BookLover) said...

I haven't heard of this book before, but it sounds good! Very fitting for October. :) Great review!

Candace said...

Yeah, I think I gave this one three stars if I remember correctly. I thought it was okay but I wasn't a huge fan of the verse style in it. I prefer the more sparse style instead of this one where it was almost a full book and things were repeated. It did work for the story because that's how the point was got across, but I still didn't love it. Still an interesting story though about something that is fascinatingly creepy and that I really don't know much about.

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