The Ash Family

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

Molly Dektar has written an incredibly fascinating debut novel! I finished this in one day.! The Ash Family has so many interesting characters with fanatical beliefs. I really loved that this was written from the perspective of Harmony/Berie since she was such a likable and earnest character. Although it was slightly predictable, I was very happy with how things turned out for her. Overall, I will definitely be recommending this one!
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This was an interesting book that told the story of nineteen year old Berie and how she was lured into an isolated commune deep in the woods. The story then continues to show the manipulation and brainwashing that led Berie to eventually change her name to Harmony, shun her "fake" life and denounce her family. The book was a bit slow, there wasn't much action. Instead it focused on two years in the life of Harmony and her family, also known as "ashers." I received a complimentary ebook from the publisher in exchange for a review.
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Really lovely book about cults, containing lots of superb nature writing. I reviewed it at greater length for the Arts Fuse - link below.
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The Ash Family is the story of a cult in North Carolina. Instead of heading to college, Beryl follows a man she meets at a bus station, Bay, deep into the woods, in search of a family and a sense of belonging. She becomes Harmony and is taught many lessons by The Ash Family on their farm, including to leave “the fake world” behind. Dice is the “father” of the family. When newcomers arrive, they are told they can leave in 3 days or stay forever. Those who have attempted to leave after 3 days often suffer serious consequences. Harmony works to find her place in this new community though over time, she can’t help but wonder What if? she returned to the real (fake) world. 

The premise of The Ash Family intrigued me but the execution was just ok. I felt like some characters were flat and I had a hard time buying into the story - While we all want to experience a sense of belonging, Beryl’s former life in “the fake world” was hardly traumatic. I also could not get on board with her fascination of Bay - He held zero appeal. My interest in the story waned over time instead of picking up as the story progressed. After a slow build, the ending felt abrupt too. 

Because of the cult, this story reminded me of The Girls. While there were disturbing elements included, The Ash Family was less disturbing than The Girls. I love the cover of this book and I would probably read another story by Molly Dektar, however, this one just wasn’t for me.
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How much would you sacrifice for what you believed in? 

Berie is headed off to college, by her mother's insistence, but at the airport after being dropped off, Berie spends her last dollar taking a bus away. Berie doesn't know what she wants or where to go, only that she wants to help heal the dying environment. It is fate that Bay chose her to go with him, to live with the Ash Family. To live for the new earth that will come. When Berie gets into Bay's car she goes with nothing, her clothes and suitcases left on the bus, and no one knows where in the Appalachian woods they end up.

I wanted to like this book, well, I did, somewhat, but I didn't love it. Berie is told, like all newcomers, you can stay for three days or the rest of your life. Berie is renamed Harmony. Everyone in the Ash Family leaves their fake-world names behind. The Ash Family is like a cult, but instead of religion you have fervent belief in the dying earth and desire to save it for humans; to become something else, a hive, interconnected. 

Harmony easily lets the three days go by, so she assumes that she will stay the rest of her life. But throughout the book she questions staying, or leaving, and alternates towards being certain this is the place for her. It is confusing. Berie/Harmony is a confusing character. We know she cares about the environment, was a vegetarian upon arrival, yet eats a slice of meat the first time it is offered to her without even saying anything. She is not in harmony, she is uncertain about everything. And there is part of the problem with the book. We want to like the narrator but I didn't. I couldn't understand her motives, why she would stay or want to go. And the ending was unresolved, not a strong ending at all.

Overall the book is okay, but ultimately disappointing to me. Did Berie learn, grow, become her own person? I'm not sure.
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This story was beautifully written, but fell short at the end. I adored the way the author wrote about North Carolina, the romantic yet harsh qualities of the mountains rang true and deep. I loved being in Harmony/Berie's head and seeing how she fell into this family. The sinister undertones made me turn the pages, but the last 50 pages felt rushed. I would've liked to have 30-50 more pages of falling action, where Harmony/Berie sorts through the aftermath of the family. 
I would recommend this to someone who enjoyed The Girls by Emma Cline, The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah, or The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon.
I will definitely keep an eye out for future works by this author, and thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the arc!
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The only way I can describe THE ASH FAMILY is horrifying and amazing. It was definitely a hard book to put down and if I had the chance, I would have read it in one sitting. 

Beryl is being pushed by her mother to go to college but she’s unsure what she wants to do and while waiting at a bus stop, she meets Bay. Bay ends up luring her into returning with him to an isolated commune in the hills of North Carolina.

If you are at all interested or intrigued by cults, this read is definitely for you.
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Even coming after THE GIRLS and other recent cult novels, this was really interesting and suspenseful.  I think the author did a great job of building the world of the novel and of developing the characters so that it was all logical and believable.
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The descriptions of the scenery are beautifully written and the writing in general is well done.  I couldn't identify with any of the characters, though, and the slow pacing of the book made it drag.  The whole cult theme seemed pretentious and frankly, I didn't care what happened to any of them.  It's always been hard for me to understand how people get sucked into cults and this is no exception.  What exactly is appealing about wearing filthy clothes, doing chores, and living in uncertain conditions?  

I'll give this book three stars based on the writing style and hope the author's next book is more to my liking.
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This novel is about a young woman, Berie (who gets renamed Harmony), who on her way to college, instead ends up joining an off the grid commune/cult in the mountains of North Carolina. It's actually a pretty quiet book over all, but with occasional jolts of creepiness. But the book is almost as much or more about the atmosphere as the plot. The writing is just so lovely and lyrical. I could not remotely relate to Harmony and her actions, but yet somehow I was able to understand her.
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I had high hopes for this one.  The premise sounded intriguing and the cover is beautiful....  I liked it and it was certainly thought-provoking but I was hoping for something more.  I wasn't crazy about the pace or the characters.
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I'm really conflicted on how to rate and what to write for this book. On one hand Molly Dektar is a great writer. I felt there were times I could actually hear and smell the things she was describing in the book. But the characters were really very blah to me. I know that we're suppose to feel something for Berie/Harmony but she's so unlikable to me that I just couldn't, even when it was apparent she was in over her head. I guess if you're really into cults this would be an interesting book to pick up but for me it lacked "that something" that makes a contemporary literature novel shine. I would probably read another novel by Dektar but I hope that if I do the characters are at least developed a little bit better than the ones in this novel. 

2 stars.

Thank you to the publisher for providing me with an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Fueled by events such as the Jonestown massacre ( drinking the Kool-aid ) and later the shoot-out at the Davidians compound in Waco, TX,  I've long been fascinated by the whole commune experience.  I've also mostly associated it with religion, but there was always the "hippie"  lifestyle as well. The first case has always incited a negative emotion while the living off the land experience seemed banal and simply a life choice about simplicity. But I've always known it was ever that simple. There's always a leader making the rules, motivated by something that may or may not jive for everyone else. And in both cases they rely on their ability to drive group think. 

That's how I found myself reading The Ash Family.  I was completely intrigued by the topic and turns out the author does a good job keeping the main character, Beryl/Harmony ( B/H)  interesting.   She motivated by her attraction to Bay, but also she is a very lonely young woman, and easily impressionable. She simply doesn't have much of an anchor in her life and she is ripe for the pickings. And Bay knows it thus she's quickly indoctrinated into the life.

Molly Dektar's writing is detailed and prolific, which makes for a compelling read. As B/H navigates her life on the farm, off the grid, she experiences highs and lows. She is transformed but being in her head and we also know she holds onto some core values. When she breaks the rules, she does it for the right reasons. This is what kept me with her, wanting to follow her on the path towards enlightenment and the freedom she sought.

4 stars and recommendation!
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✨Book Review✨
This year, I’m embracing the DNF. If a book doesn’t grab me, if I’m not interested in it, if I’m finding it hard to get myself to keep picking it up to read, then I’m moving on. Unfortunately, I’ve been striking out with my Netgalley books because this one was also a DNF for me. It was so slow and was not holding my interest at all.
I recommend that you go over and check out Katie’s @basicbsguide review. She posted a great review for it the other day and since she finished the book, I feel like she can give you a better feel for what to expect. She had great things to say about it!
#bookreview #bibliophile #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #igreads #thetipsyreader #netgalley #theashfamily #book #books #ebook #bookish #bookobsessed #bookcommunity #bookaholic #bookphotography #booklover #bookaddict #booknerd #bookphoto #booklove #arc
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*3-3.5 stars

Beryl is being pushed by her mother to go to college but instead she wants a deeper connection with the 'real' world, with nature. Her mother takes her to the airport to fly to school but Beryl decides to sneak off on her own instead. 

While waiting at the bus station, Beryl is approached by a guy named Bay who lures her into returning with him to an isolated commune in the hills of NC. The life there sounds just like what she's been dreaming of--a deeper connection with the natural world. Bay tells her that she can stay there for three days or forever...but 'why would you want to leave, when you'll have more freedom here than anywhere else?' he tells her.

These people live off the land and actively fight against evil corporations, like coal companies, that they feel are out to ruin the Earth. Their leader Dice is a smallish older man, not a hippy, more like a boxer, 'who seemed to have his fists up against the world.' 

He tells Beryl that the family has a number of rules for the utopia they are creating: share money and clothes; have no fires in the barn; no leaving the farm for visits home; no 'fake world' medicine; no reading and writing; no phones, mirrors, or soap. Be expected to volunteer for hard tasks and do your share of the daily chores. But the biggest rule of all is there are to be no couples so no babies will be added to this already overcrowded world. Beryl doesn't mention that she has a huge crush on Bay, one of the reasons she wants to stay. Dice gives her her 'real' name now--it's Harmony. 

Harmony finds it's easy 'to love the Ash Family as an act of defiance, an act of scorn against all who had hurt' her in the 'fake' world, like her mother and her ex-boyfriend Isaac. She doesn't want to think of the family as a last resort. But there are problems here too. People complain that she is not carrying her full load and Bay ignores her. She wonders if she 'would ever feel at rest, in the real world or in the fake world.'

The story is told from Harmony's first person point of view so the reader is limited to her perspective, her judgments of right and wrong, lies or truth, her observations of what is happening.  

Oh you know that their supposedly blissful utopia is fragile, has to be, because they are prone violence, especially in their activism. And family members are expected to do what they are called upon to do, even if they hardly have the stomach for it.

As always when we read about cults and communes, in real life or fiction, we hear about the brainwashing techniques used to make a person give up self and join the group think. They are systematically separated from their own family and friends so they will be more open to doings things they wouldn't normally do so they can belong to this new family. It's all very reminiscent of the Manson family, isn't it? 

I thought the writing and descriptions could be quite beautiful but as for plot, I think I wanted, was really expecting, more drama. And I really wanted Beryl to THINK, to notice that she was frequently lied to and manipulated, that the rules didn't always apply to everyone equally. 

I received an arc of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for my honest review. Many thanks.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Darkly poetic, The Ash Family is the story of Berie as she joins a cult in the back country of North Carolina. Leaving for college, she makes a decision to follow a man she met at bus station. What follows is an account of her time in the community and wrestling with the question what makes someone join a cult.

I found the story to be compelling and thought provoking, though a bit slow in places. But it left me with a lot to ponder. Who are we really and what forces shape us? Give this book a read if you enjoyed books like Educated, Sound of Gravel, or The Great Alone.
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The Ash Family by Molly Dektar is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early April.

Very much like we’re meeting up with a story already in progress - Beryl/Berie/Harmony is journeying toward and finding common ground at the homestead of the Ash Family commune. It rings truesimilar to Martha Marcy May Marlene, yet Beryl/Berie/Harmony starts out as a considerably less strong, more pliable character who’s eager to please, doesn’t take the lead in most situations, and just kinda lets things unfold. Later, it teases at controversy with underpinnings of the Ash Family believing in an upcoming fallout/Armageddon, and their once-tight and hardworking group slowly collapsing.
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If you want one surefire way to get me to read/watch/listen to something, tell me it's about cults and I'm in 100%. That's why The Ash Family drew me in so quickly with it's gorgeous cover and the story of 19 year old Berie running off to the join a cult living in the mountains. What more could you ask for? The novel itself is very well written, there is no doubt that Molly Dektar is a fantastic writer but unfortunately, the storyline felt flat and the characters don't have much arc or development. There were a lot of moments throughout the book that felt like it was gearing up and really drew me in but all those moments sort of fizzled out and ended up being very anti-climatic. I wish we could have gotten a deeper look into the lives of the other cult members and how they ended up here, why they ended up here. Overall, the book left a lot unsaid and I only wish it could have been fleshed out more. 

Dektar is a deft and invocative writer and I'm reminding myself that this is only her debut novel, I have a feeling there will be many more to come and will certainly be watching her for future releases! 

I will be posting a review sometime between 4/12 - 4/15 on my Instagram and Goodreads.
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The Ash family


When nineteen-year-old Berie encounters a mysterious man on her way to take a bus to a college she never wanted to attend, she received more than what she bargained for. The promise of a fulfilling life away form the fake world we live in now. She is taken to the Ash Farm; were there lives a family living off the grid and surviving off the fertile land. Berie changes her name to Harmony and renounces her old life to please the leaders of the farm. As she becomes more comfortable with the family certain friends start disappearing with no reason as why.

The ideal of cults have always sparked my curiosity. I’ve always wondered how do cults form and how does one person have so much influence over another? In the Ash Family that question is never answered. There was so much description in this book, yet nothing was happening. I was hoping that I was going to be swooned over Dice the cult leader and want to join that cult long after finishing the book. But Dice never game me a reason to want to trust him or even like him.

Our protagonist wasn’t either likable or detestable kind of like her personality. She would love being there one moment and, in another moment, question her existence. None of the cult leaders seemed charming or could convince anyone of joining the cult. It was as if Berie was such a naïve person and lived such a sad life prior to meeting the Ash family. But, she didn’t. The worst thing that made her want to escape life was her mom loved to collect niknacks and her ex-boyfriend was somewhat of a vegetarian squatter turned photographer. There was no true motive as so why Berie felt she needed to join the cult so bad. Berie would be asked to do things that didn’t even make sense. She was convinced immediately to go with a strange guy, live with people that treated her with zero trust and in no moment rebel or question anything anyone one ever did as long as she felt accepted.

The story unfolds with no intrigue, with lots of description of farming and herding sheep and agriculture. There was no crazy plot twist, there was no doubt as to what intentions each person had. Everyboy was transparent and one dimensional. Also, for a cult that hides someone away from society, I felt that her mom didn’t seem too worried that for 2 years her daughter was disappeared. The book doesn’t make it a point to let us know that she was that type of mother. The book as very clear that she was the type of mom that wanted a better life for her child so college is the way to go, and for that Berie was resentful.

The ending was nothing unexpected. It just left the reader asking so much like, was the Ash family religious? They sung songs but many times I couldn’t tell who they were singing to, how did they form? How long have they been a cult? I wanted to know so much more that could have been included in the novel as opposed to the excessive description of farm life.  The novel lacked layers. It went at a fast pace, but nothing really happens. There is a lot of insinuations, where the reader had to guess “well I guess that happened”. If you are interested in a book that submerges you in the cult life, this book will not fulfill your inquiries.
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{My Thoughts}
What Worked For Me
A Girl Lost – Even though I sometimes found Berie/Harmony incredibly flawed, I also found her very endearing. Not every high school graduate is ready for college come September. Some need time and space to figure out what they want from life and Berie epitomized that young person. Her single mom had big dreams of Berie getting further in life than she had and college was her solution. Isaac, Berie’s boyfriend, pushed her to start her real life and to do so in college. Yet, Berie was only going through the motions, sensing at her core that college wasn’t going to give her what she was looking for. The bigger problem was that Berie didn’t really know what that was. She cared about the environment, but more than anything, she just wanted to feel like she really belonged somewhere. So, when a stranger approached her at a bus station and offered her a respite from the life she was leading, Berie jumped at it. All she had to do to really belong was learn that there was no self; there was just the family. And, Berie had to learn to follow “the rules.”

“My eyes filled with tears. I wondered if my mother had limited me or betrayed me or let me down. Not exactly, not specifically, but that didn’t make Dice’s grip on my shoulder any less true, and I began to forget how much I loved the flecks of rainbow twirling off those diamond earrings, my inheritance from her, her love of small beauties.”

An Off-the-Grid Community – I found the setting of The Ash Family incredibly appealing. To begin with, a self-sustaining farm in a mountain holler provided a rich background for “Harmony’s” new life. As she learned about the rigors of caring for cows and sheep, growing crops, surviving harsh winters and reveling in the abundance of summer, so too did the reader. Then, just as Harmony learned about the philosophies of the Ash family’s charismatic leader, so did the reader. As she struggled to understand what life in the Ash family meant, so too did I.

Queen – Of all the characters in The Ash Family, I most appreciated Queen. Another young woman adopted into the family, Queen somehow had held onto parts of her own life. She was ashamed of her past and remained devoted to the family, but she also questioned the rules and even stood up to them.

What Didn’t
Incredible Naivety – As much as I liked Berie/Harmony, her willful naivety became frustrating because it seemed too unreal. So much happened around the farm that Harmony just accepted without question. She seemed like too smart a girl to turn a blind eye as often as she did. Even the fact that she didn’t want to go to college, but hadn’t talked about it with her mom felt so unlikely. Dektar provided reasoning for these things, but I had a hard time buying into those reasons as often as Dektar asked me to.

Too Little Character Development – Other than Queen, the reader never really learned much about the other members of the Ash family, outside of their interactions with Harmony. Understanding the leader, Dice, and his right-hand man, Bay, might have provided a little more balance to the story.

The First 20% – If you plan to read The Ash Family, be prepared to keep going through the very slow start to Berie/Harmony’s story. I nearly DNF’d it, but trapped on a plane, I kept going. I’m very glad I did! Once Berie’s story finally began to come together I was much more engaged and eager to discover where debut author Molly Dektar was taking me.

{The Final Assessment}
As you can already tell, I both liked and didn’t like parts of The Ash Family. Sometimes it rambled and Berie’s lack of clarity throughout grew frustrating. By the end I wondered if she had really grown or even learned much about herself. Still, I enjoyed being along for her unusual journey and found myself still concerned for her after the book had ended. This is the rare novel where I might have liked an epilogue! Grade: B

Note: I received a copy of this book from Simon & Schuster (via NetGalley) in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!
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