About the Book

Title: Family
Published: 2011

Cover Story: Exception To the Rule
BFF Charm: Not So Much, No
Swoonworthy Scale: 0
Talky Talk: I Like You, But. I Wish You. Had Written. In Sentences.
Bonus Factors: Cults, Shit Getting Real, Kickass Trailer
Relationship Status: I’d Grant Your Parole

Content Warning: This book contains scenes of rape.

Cover Story: Exception To the Rule

I generally hate book covers with faces on them, cause they’re usually either emo-tilted or white-washed. And also I hate having an image projected on me – I want to use my imagination, like my kindergarten teacher taught me.

But I like this cover. The blank face depicts Mel’s internal torment and the blurred edges echo her drug-fuelled conscious. Plus, blood spatters are never not fun, so long as Dexter is around somewhere.

The Deal

Mel is a teenage runaway, which isn’t all that surprising, considering her stepfather, “Uncle Jack,” likes to use Mel’s various body parts for a handy penis receptacle, if you know what I mean. While on a park bench at Haight-Ashbury, Mel is approached by Henry, a charismatic, ragged-haired man who invites Mel to sleep in his van for the evening. Over the next three days, after a fair amount of drugged-up sex, Henry convinces Mel to come live with him and his “family” out on a deserted ranch far from town.

Mel agrees and soon she is a full-fledged member of Henry’s family, sharing everything – including her body – with her new brothers and sisters. She forms bonds with her sister Shelly, avoids the lecherous hands of her brother Junior when she can, mistrusts the flinty stare of her sister Leila, and falls irrevocably in love with Henry, whom she comes to view as a god.

But can Mel follow Henry’s orders when he orders her to participate in bringing his message of helter-skelter to the world?

(P.S. The cover of this book calls it “loosely” based on the Manson murders. There ain’t no loosely about it. The names have changed. That’s pretty much it. I mean, they even have the part in there where Chuckles, er, Henry, was sold for a pitcher of beer.)

BFF Charm: Not So Much, No

BFF Charm that says "denied"

It’s not that I didn’t like Mel. I actually don’t know if I’d like her or not, because I never really got to know the real her. Which is totally the point, because Mel has been so fractured by life that there really isn’t much there that isn’t a reflection of someone else’s influence on her.

But even if I did know her well, I probably still wouldn’t offer up a bff charm, cause, you know, SHE IS LIVING WITH CHARLES MANSON. Er, “Henry.” I don’t want any truck with crazy cult leaders, thankyouverymuch.

Swoonworthy Scale: 0

Seriously, if you guys read this and think, “What a romantic tale of two young lovers! And everyone else they have sex with!” then I’m going to have to approach you with a muzzle and maybe a tranq gun. Are you crazy?

And it’s not the swinging part, cause, you know, whatever floats your boat. As long as your boat isn’t floated by the bloated corpses of the people your cult leader has demanded that you kill!

Plus, like, have you ever had sex with hippies? I mean, I haven’t, FOR A REASON, because I do not particularly want the odor of corn chips and patchouli anywhere near me or my lady parts, but one time I touched a hippie on the elbow and then I had to stay in the shower for a week, scrubbing to get clean.

(Also, I guess this is as good a place as any to put this, but Holy Trigger Warning, Batman! While not too detailed, the scenes of Mel’s rapes are graphic enough to turn the stomach of anyone. Forewarned is forearmed, folks.)

Talky Talk: I Like You, But. I Wish You. Had Written. In Sentences.

So, yeaaaaah, this is a poetry book. And if you guys know me, there is nothing that makes me pull a Fred Savage quicker than a poetry book. You guys, I just don’t have the patience, the youthful air, the philosophy undergrad major to deal with poetry books, okay?

Don’t get me wrong! I love poetry! But what I love about poetry is that I DON’T have to read an entire book of it, that I can pick up a poem, read it in a minute or two, and then spend all day thinking about it. I hate going from one poem to another. IT JUST SEEMS WRONG.

That said, I liked this book even though it was a poetry book. Which is frankly a pretty big vote of confidence for this book. So if you do not hate poetry books, then you’ll probably really like this!

Bonus Factor: Cults

Ha ha, okay, cults are NOT a bonus factor in that YOU SHOULD NEVER JOIN ONE. EVER, okay? Just . . . just don’t do it. NOTHING GOOD WILL EVER COME OF IT. If you are feeling sad and like no one understands your pain, then you should lock yourself in your room and play The Smiths and Arcade Fire like the rest of us. DON’T JOIN A CULT.

That said, I love to read about cults. My high school freshman research paper was about cults! As someone who can’t even get her cat to do what she says, it’s fascinating to me that there are people who seem to know the secret to getting people to do whatever they want. Of course, they always totally waste that power by having their followers either kill other people or kill themselves instead of, say, convincing their followers to send me champ cans in the mail. Selfish, selfish cult leaders.

Bonus Factor: Shit Getting Real

I love YA books that do not treat their audience as idiot tweens and, to that end, I love YA that focuses on the gritty underbelly of life – sex, drugs, abuse, mental illness, bigotry, what have you. (Not that sex or drugs are a bad thing.)

But not only does shit get real in that way, but, you know – this shit IS real. Or was real, at any rate. It was interesting to peek behind the Manson murders’ curtain and, for those unfamiliar with the details of Charles Manson and his followers, this is definitely a good intro book before picking up something like Helter Skelter, which is so thick you could press a witch to death with it. I think maybe a lot of people of my own generation and younger don’t really get what “the big deal” is with Manson and I remember particularly douchy stoners having posters of him on their wall in high school and college. But I am here to tell you that there is nothing not awful about Charles Manson. Hell, if for no other reason, he’s awful because now everyone gives Roman Polanski a pass on all his child raping. Thanks a lot, Chuckles.

Bonus Factor: Kickass Trailer

We so often deride book trailers on FYA, because usually they are godawful. But whoever put the trailer for this book together knows their stuff!

Relationship Status: I’d Grant Your Parole

This book is pretty intense, and it’s populated with the worst kind of hippies, the murderin’ kind. But this book showed me the dark places and quiet desperation of those murderin’ hippies. So, yeah, I’d probably grant this book parole, because it needs to be running around out there on the streets and charming its way into the hands of people everywhere. I just hope that none of the new friends it makes are already inclined to be the murderin’ kind . . .

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my copy of the book from Egmont. I received neither money nor cocktails for writing this review (dammit!). Family is available in stores now!

Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink.