Family Hardcover – Apr 26 2011
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About the Author
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I was wrong.
"Family" is about a girl named Mel who leaves her old life behind. She never knew her father; only her “uncle Jack" - her step-father who would rape her night after night - and her mother who would turn a deaf ear. Finally, one day, Mel decides to run away, and ends up running straight into the arms of Henry. Henry takes her to his ranch, where he lives with his family – a family unlike any other Mel has ever known.
This story is supposed to be loosely based on the Manson family. I have recently been very intrigued in the Manson family murders, so of course, like many other readers, was interested in reading this YA novel. However, I was totally disappointed. I read it in only a couple hours. I thought it was very boring, and that the words just repeated over and over and OVER. Also, I hated how the only capitalized words were Henry and His/Him, whenever talking about Henry. Also, the punctuation was terrible; it was so choppy and there were periods placed in the most ridiculous places. I’m sorry, but I’m such a stickler for grammar and punctuation, and so the weird punctuation and non-capitalized letters just bugged me. Also, I think writing this novel in verse was unnecessary – completely unnecessary. I think it would’ve been a lot stronger of a novel if it were written in prose. Don’t get me wrong – I love poetry. I also enjoy books written in verse, such as Ellen Hopkins’s books. However, I just didn’t like it for this book. I wanted more dialogue, more interaction, more story and plot.
Unfortunately, I just couldn’t get into this novel. I didn’t like it at all.
Told in episodic verse, kind of expanded poetry, it kind of made the whole story a bit hazy to read. There were times I had trouble figuring out what was going on because the language got a bit purple but I could buy it as the flower child's thought process. So it wasn't too bad in that regard. But still it was a bit thick. Although it did do a good job in its thickness to portray life at the commune/cult. The flowery-ness flowed in the sexual drug haze that surrounded the MC all the time. And I really liked the little cracks in the facade, where Mel got bits and pieces of what all of this was really about but after some more magical mystery juice and free love she was sucked right back into it.
You get to see that all of these people in this compound are broken in some way. They've been wronged by the people they loved in one regard or another and they ultimately come together in that wrongness to try and make it right. It's really a nice route to recovery. Too bad their leader was a sociopath that kept them doped so he could manipulate them into doing what he wanted done. He perverted the message for his own gain. Not surprising in the slightest but it was interesting to watch the world break down from broken eyes.
The ending . . . I don't believe this to be a spoiler because we all know how the Manson story ended. If you don't I highly recommend a history textbook. Well the story culminated with an event much like the Mason family brought to fruition except in FAMILY one of the victims escapes and the MC gets away. Fail. Hard. Yeah, awesome, that she came to a hardcore self-realization at the end there. Super. She's also an accessory to murder. No sympathy from this chick right here. Sorry. I don't know what I was supposed to feel or meant to feel but I was wholly expecting her to run into the arms of the cops. Nope. She runs off into the night and the story is left hanging. An exceptionally unsatisfactory ending. I don't find this artsy or endearing or quintessential to the whole hippie mindset. I needed it to go down like the real event it was modeled after. I think Mel would have resonated far more as a character if she didn't get to run away from her problems for a second time.
Don't get me wrong; it wasn't a bad book. I just wasn't thrilled with it. I liked the character development and the set-up of the story, the cracks in the hippie visage, even though the prose was on the flowery side. But the ending was a killer for me. Very anti-climatic and I didn't feel like there was any kind of justice done. Mel just gets to continue her cycle of running yet again because she's been broken yet again. It felt empty and the escape unearned. After a few months of hedonism you get to get away with conspiring to murder a houseful of people because the high wears off and you realize what you're doing. Um, no.
So yeah. It was a quick read because of the verse which I'm kinda glad for. I don't think I could have taken this story if it were denser although I'd tolerate it if the ending were fixed.
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.
The main character, Mel, has lived a hard and painful life. She escapes to San Francisco, only to meet up with Henry. Mel immediately falls for Henry's words and empty promises. He guarantees she will be loved and welcomed into his "family", and become a part of them right away. But Henry's family is not what Mel could have expected. It is actually a cult, filled with brainwashed people who share everything and all live under Henry's order and guidance. This group of people are all broken in some way, and they have joined Henry to repair themselves and find people who will love and help them. But joining with Henry does have its consequences and Mel will be faced with some difficult choices.
Since this was written in episodic verse, we never really got to know the characters that well. While a fair amount were introduced by name, the reader only really gets to know Mel and Henry. While Mel was our main character, I could never relate to her or understand her actions. Couldn't she see that joining Henry's group would only lead to trouble? And that there were other people in the world who would help and respect her if she only looked harder? Mel was very easily swayed by Henry and she soon fell victim to his words and promises. At times I just wanted to shake her shoulders and make her see that she was only digging herself into a hole that would be impossible to escape from. Henry was a frightening figure and it was scary how quickly he built up this cult and had them all in the palm of his hand.
family was a fast paced read, not only because it was written in verse, but because I just had to know how everything turned out. The ending was a huge twist, but I felt it was a bit rushed. This was an incredibly important part of the book and it was over very fast. I definitely would have liked to see things wrapped up a bit better.
All in all, family was an impressive novel, but at times I felt disconnected from the story and the characters. I definitely recommend giving this a read and it inspired me to do more research on the Manson Family. I liked how this was written in verse, and while the ending was a bit abrupt, the story was well orchestrated and I'm looking forward to reading more by Micol Ostow.
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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