Hollywood Park : A Memoir
by Jollett, Mikel

The front man of indie band The Airborne Toxic Event reveals his upbringing in the infamous Church of Synanon cult, where he endured poverty, addiction and emotional abuse before slowly working his way toward college and a music career.

Mikel Jollett is the frontman of the indie band The Airborne Toxic Event. Prior to forming the band, Jollett graduated with honors from Stanford University. He was an on-air columnist for NPR's All Things Considered, an editor-at-large for Men's Health and an editor at Filter magazine. His fiction has been published in McSweeney's.

While his first book is being touted as a memoir about growing up in the Synanon cult, Jollett, frontman for the band Airborne Toxic Event, actually writes much more about his life after escaping it. Raised as a "universal child" by several people, he hardly knew the woman he was told to call mom, a narcissist who believed Jollett and his brother should take care of her. In Oregon, after Synanon, they live in extreme poverty and both boys struggle with loneliness and substance abuse. They find much-needed senses of normalcy and family in California, where they're periodically sent to live with their father and his wife, also a former Synanon member. Jollett learns to navigate the world through music, running, and later, therapy. He is a very good writer able to relay details of his difficult life, even as a young child, and despite occasionally overwrought descriptions, the story remains engaging and heartbreaking. A good choice for fans of memoirs about overcoming dysfunctional childhoods like Educated (2018) and The Glass Castle (2005). Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

A painstaking emotional accounting of a tortured youth ultimately redeemed through music, therapy, and love. In his debut, Jollett, the frontman for the indie band Airborne Toxic Event, opens the narrative in an orphanagelike facility in California when he was introduced to a strange woman who had come to take him away. "I remember that a 'Mom' is supposed to be a special thing....She tells me I'm her son and she wanted kids so she would not be alone anymore and now she has us and it is a son's job to take care of his mother," he writes. Both the author's parents were members of Synanon, a drug-recovery program–turned-cult that took children from their parents when they were 6 months old. After their release from captivity, Jollett and his brother grew up in extreme poverty in rural Oregon. Their mother's distorted view of the parent-child relationship made her almost completely useless as a caretaker; her terminally alcoholic boyfriend was the boys' only reliable source of either physical sustenance or affection. For the first third of the book, the author attempts to portray the world, and the English language, as he perceived it at age 5 and 6. His troubled mother had "deep-russian." She hated "Thatasshole Reagan." Another escapee from the cult was beaten by goons and developed "men-in-ji-tis" in the hospital; he thought about sending the cult leader a "sub-peena." This becomes tiring, and since Jollett's mother was ultimately diagnosed with a personality disorder, the level of detail and repetition with regard to her maternal failures is overdone. The author's father, though an ex-con and former addict, is the story's hero; he is beautifully written and lights up the book. In fifth grade, a friend introduced Jollett to the Cure. The Smiths and David Bowie were not far behind, and the teenage portion of the book, during which he often lived with his father in Los Angeles, is a smoother read. Ultimately, as he lucidly shows, music would change his life. A musician proves himself a talented, if long-winded, writer with a very good memory. Copyright Kirkus 2020 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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