Family by Micol Ostow
Release Date – April 26, 2011
Publisher – EgmontUSA
Pages - 384
My Rating- 8/10
Here is the Goodreads synopsis
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 make themselves “whole” again.
**If you know nothing of the Mason Family case there may be some spoilers for the book in here**
I have seen a few movies, and even read a few books that were based on the Manson Family. When I heard that this was based on that case I was interested to see what the author would do with the story. If you’ve read Helter Skelter than you’ll see that this book is quite similar to the events this is “loosely” based on.
I wasn’t aware until I picked up the book to start reading it that it was written in episodic verse. This was my first time reading a book that was told in this style. It was a little jarring at first, but once I got used to it I finished the book rather quickly. There is something almost liquid about the words when written this way. They seem to just flow. It was a nice parallel to Melinda’s feelings and thoughts. The words were also a little disjointed, looping, and a little trippy. It gave the book a drugged feel which also matched our protagonist.
The switching from the night of the murder, to the early days of Melinda’s entrance into the “Family” was quite shocking and effective. I thought that was done really well.
The only thing with the verse style writing is that it does get a touch repetitive. Some of it is to underscore the cult mentality of being brainwashed, which does come across rather vividly. It did get to the point, however, that I wished at some points it would move quicker.
Melinda is abused, broken and adrift. She is looking for something, anything to hold on to. She meets Henry. He senses this and strikes. He’s all charm, and says the words that Melinda needs to hear. The author does a great job of showing how broken Melinda is. You can see how she would have gone with Henry and fallen for what he was saying. However, there were points in the novel that you could sense Melinda coming out of the almost “hypnotized state” that she was in. I liked that the author was able to make us see that a part of Melinda was fighting just below the surface against Henry’s control. She had times of doubt, fear, and uncertainty. It made her seem more real and complex.
We don’t really get to know many of the other characters except what Melinda tells us. We don’t really know much about their motivations or backgrounds. I would have liked to have learnt more about some of them, especially Henry’s mind frame. We barely get to know Melinda and that is the draw back of the verse writing. I felt a little disconnected from the characters at times.
The ending of the book felt like a storm gaining momentum. You are at the edge waiting to see what each of the characters will do. I liked that the author surprised me with the ending. It is not what I expected at all.
This dark, frightening, yet lyrical book is perfect for people who are curious about the case it’s based on, enjoy some darker fiction and don’t mind different writing styles.