family by Micol Ostow
i have always been broken.
i could have. died.
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.
Before reading family I hadn't been too familiar with the history of Charles Manson and his cult. I had a vague idea of what it was about, but by reading this it opened my eyes to the horrifying truth of what happened in 1969. This was a fictionalized version of the Manson Family murders, but it still had some basic similarities. family was written in verse, which I think worked purely because this novel relied so much on emotions and random thoughts. The characters were never fully developed and we didn't get to see everything that was going on. family was still an incredibly intense and gritty novel, and Micol Ostow didn't hold back in saying what needed to be said.
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
April 26, 2011/Egmont USA/384 Pages/Young Adult
Source: Publisher (ARC)