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FAMILY by Micol Ostow


by Micol Ostow

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: April 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60684-155-6
Publisher: Egmont USA

A vivid but ponderous exploration in verse of late-1960s-California cult life. Mel, broken by her uncaring mother’s sexually abusive boyfriend, “Uncle” Jack, runs away from home with no plans beyond getting to San Francisco. Once there, without food or money, she’s a sitting duck for the charismatic Henry, who promises Mel a new life with his family of “love and openness and / everyone caring,” among whom she can be made whole and free again. Mel’s embrace of family life, with its communal meals and shared sexual partners, is enthusiastic but not wholehearted: She easily recognizes the emotional damage in all of the family members and steers clear of the worst of the bunch. Eventually Mel begins to worry that Henry, who has always seemed “infinite” and healing, is just as shattered as his followers. Like Charles Manson, on whom he is clearly based, Henry was traded by his mother for a pitcher of beer and has pretensions to fame as a prophetic folk star. After an apparent snub by a music industry executive, Mel can tell that “Henry cannot restrain His infinite want. / cannot still the undertow within.” Unfortunately, Mel’s journey is a little too clichéd to be believable—of course her emotional damage is due to sexual abuse—and her voice, full of repetitions of ominous phrases, is too mannered to be engaging. (Historical fiction/verse. 14 & up)