Cover Image: To the Moon and Back

To the Moon and Back

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Member Reviews

I love books about cults. This one did not disappoint!

Even though I love memoirs, they sometimes get a little boring and I find myself skipping parts. Did not do that with this book. Lisa’s story was engaging and I found myself always wanting to read more.

Thank you NetGalley, the author and publisher for providing me with a free copy of this book.

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Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read an advance copy of Lisa Kohn’s To The Moon and Back. The rating and review are my own thoughts and opinions, and have not been influenced by receiving this book to read.

This book was an amazing insight into the weird world of the moonies. Lisa Kohn tells her story in a brutally honest way and we are taken along for the ride. This is particularly affecting as her view seems to be pretty much front row as she plays with the ’true family’, the cult leaders children.

Aside from the moonies, Lisa had a different upbringing with 2 parents completely incompetent at parenting. This makes for an engaging story and I liked hearing how her relationship with her parent developed over time as Lisa herself grew up and had children.

I would definitely recommend.

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In this solid, brutally honest memoir by a former member of the Unification Church, popularly known as the Moonies, Lisa Kohn shares the story of her tumultuous youth, growing up in the 1980s and 90s among the church's inner circle, the so-called Messiah, Sun Myung Moon, and his family. 

When Kohn was a little girl, her young mother dabbled in various cults and philosophies in search of meaning and simple answers. What she found within the Unification Church clicked and she soon brought Lisa and her brother into the fold where they stayed until they eventually broke away in young adulthood. To complicate matters further, Lisa's father was a hard drinking and drugging bartender who thought nothing of encouraging his 12-year-old son to smoke pot or allowing his lecherous buddies to make off-color comments about his pubescent daughter .

To the Moon and Back delivered both more and less than I expected. Lisa's story is first and foremost one of parental abuse and emotional survival. Her mother essentially abandoned the children and the home provided by their father was marginal at best.  Although Kohn describes members' cultish devotion to Moon, the caste-like system among members, and the bizarre group marriage ceremonies that made headlines back in the day, the exposé of the Moonies I was expecting never really materialized, whether because the culture of the church is more benign than my own prejudices led me to believe or because Kohn still harbors considerable affection for the community that, to some degree, nurtured her during her childhood.

Overall, I found Kohn's book about her unusual (to say the least!) and heartbreaking childhood and coming-of-age engaging and compelling. I recommend it to anyone who likes reading about  overcoming abuse and adversity or is curious about life among the Moonies.

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Another memoir to add to your To-Read list is To The Moon and Back, A Childhood Under the Influence by Lisa Kohn. Like I mentioned, I LOVE memoirs. And this one promises to be equally as gripping as Heartland yet completely different. It’s really something how we all have childhoods and they can be vastly different.

Lisa’s life didn’t take place on a farm in Kansas, her experiences were within the cult known as the “moonies.”

The best seats Lisa Kohn ever had at Madison Square Garden were at her mother’s wedding, and the best cocaine she ever had was from her father’s friend, the judge.

Lisa was raised as a “Moonie”—a member of the Unification Church, founded by self-appointed Messiah, Reverend Sun Myung Moon. As a child, she knew the ecstatic comfort of inclusion in a cult and as a teenager the torment of rebelling against it. As an adult, Lisa struggled to break free from the hold of abuse—battling her own addictions and inner-demons and searching her soul for a sense of self-worth. Told with spirited candor, TO THE MOON AND BACK reveals how one can leave behind such absurdity and horror and create a life of intention and joy. This is the fascinating tale of a story rarely told in its full complexity.

This book comes out in September and I know that those who enjoy memoirs will devour this one.

A few more of my favorite memoirs include:
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

North of Normal by Cea Sunrise Person

This is Not My Beautiful Life by Victoria Fedden

No Way Home by Tyler Wetherall

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To the Moon and the Back is a roller coaster ride. Alley cats were better parents than Kohn's. Her mother walked away from her kids so she could devote herself to a new consuming religion. Her dad did allow them to live with him, but it was in squalor. Kohn eperienced an eating disorder, drug usage, and unhealthy relationships. Her theme is healing. By the end of her memoir, she's found stability and peace with her murky upbringing.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Highly recommended read! Thanks for providing through Net Galley. Five Stars *****

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At first I had no idea that anything was wrong with my childhood.

I have a vague memory as a very young child and a newscast of a lot of people marrying one another (strangers to each other) in Madison Square Garden, and my parents mumbling something about it being ‘crazy’. I was a kid, dazzled by the many brides so when reading this memoir about the Unification Church (which some still call the Moonies and consider a cult) it clicked that this is the group from that long ago newscast. People often talk of Bohemian childhoods, but Lisa’s far surpasses many ‘hippie’ stories, her parents were free spirits that ‘stuck out’ even among those of their generation. Sure, she watched Jefferson Airplane in central park but her childhood was anything but carefree and charmed. “Mimi had tried on religions and movements like some women try on clothes.” Mimi, her mother, falls under the spell of Father ( Reverend Moon)- not her real father Danny (whom isn’t one for the label father anyway) when hearing him speak she found her purpose in life. Her children are dragged along by her passion for the religion.

When her parents first met, her mother was a straight A student, daughter of a judge while her father, Danny was ‘the beatnik son of socialist intellectualists’. Rushing headfirst into marriage the summer they were out of highschool, having children, her father attending college for a time, their marriage didn’t last long and her parents divorced. Danny moved to New York while Lisa, her mother Mimi and brother Robbie lived in New Jersey. Her father, a bartender and partaker of serious drugs had always been ‘anti-establishment’, and certainly isn’t able to provide stability anymore than her mother who is swallowed by the Church. A mother who once made the children suffer through micro-biotic diets, sugar-free living, a tv-less existence, an abusive boyfriend and whatever new fad caught her attention now pushes her children away to devote her entire being to the cause of Reverend Moon. While her mother needed to find truth and meaning, and their father came and went with the wind, Lisa and her brother relied on themselves confused by the differences in their parents lifestyles, slowly becoming aware just how strange their lives, their parents were in comparison to their peers.

“These were the beliefs that wrapped themselves like creeping vines around my mind as I grew up- during my most formative preadolescent and adolescent years- always clasping tighter and holding my life, my soul, and my sense of self together.” Lisa becomes just as enraptured as her mother, she learns to share the love and sell the ideas of the church on strangers, and friends alike. Love-bombing people with the hopes they will join, not exactly appealing to fellow students. Lisa and her brother Robbie fall in love with the positive energy and the always smiling fellow moonies. It isn’t long before they become close to the ‘True Children’, top of the hierarchy. The church becomes more their ‘real life’ than school and home, soon their mother is no longer living with them, her devotion solely to the church- her ‘calling’. Living with their grandfather “Pop”, she begins to shoulder adult responsibilities. Rather than feeling anger towards her mom, she just assures herself that it’s an important sacrifice her mother has to make, and Lisa should feel proud. Easier said than done.

When her Pop is admitted to a psych hospital it is Danny’s turn to house Lisa and her brother. Danny’s lifestyle is loud, carefree, filled with late hours, crazy wild friends and there is little chance of him putting his partying ways and drug abuse aside. He is as passionate about coccaine as her mother is about Reverend Moon and his teachings. Living with their mother, not an option, Lisa is unwanted. Her ‘puritanical’ church beliefs begin to collide with her peers, who are more interested in skipping school and experimenting with drugs, sex, all things forbidden youth loves to flirt with. Danny’s way of life too is antithesis to the Church of Unification’s values, exposing his children to everything the church reviles.

As time goes on, her mother moves often and seems to drift further from her children. As Lisa comes of age, she becomes a groupie, discovers she and her brother are banished (considered impure) for a time, and begins to question this church she once felt devoted to with all her being. Then there is Stuart, and first love. Her life is in turmoil -just what does she believe in? Church rules change, now she can’t even be with True Children, due to Reverend Moon’s latest decree, because people like her are a ‘satanic influence’. She begins to experience new forbidden things away from the church. Drinking, dancing, parties, boys and eventually Cornel. She begins to crack. It takes years, but she begins to emerge from her difficult childhood and the influence of both her parents and the church. While suffering with an eating disorder she proves even her therapist wrong with her pregnancy, already trying her best to be a better mother than her own. Finding that with her first-born child, old fears rise. A life spent distancing herself from her past involvement with the church comes full circle in the last chapter, Reunion.

I was thinking about the whole ‘cult/church’ aspect and thought ‘really families themselves are a little like cults’. What family is without its strange habits or demands? What family doesn’t warp the mind a little of each member? Now add an actual cult (outside influences) to your own family chaos and you can imagine Lisa’s struggle. If we spend our adulthood recovering from our families and childhood, how does one manage to recover from life in an actual cult? How does a woman learn to be a solid, present mother and wife?

This is a first person account of a life inside a cult, or church, depending on who you ask! Facing pain, rejection, abandonment, the confusing chaos of two parents who are equally destructive forces in her childhood, Lisa Koon somehow creates a stable, healthy beautiful life out of the ashes of her childhood.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Heliotrope Books

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What a read. An inside look at the moonies the cult we heard about ages ago and thought was to far out to be real. Well, I guess it’s real and far out but not in a good way. This was so well written it was hard to put down and hard to believe.

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