The Ash Family

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

I went into this book expecting a captivating cult story and boy did it not really deliver. This book for me was 2 stars up until the end, which pushed it over into 3 stars. The main issue for me was the protagonist. There were times when I was just shaking my head at her naivete and stupidity. It took no time at all for her to drop out of college and join this cult. While other characters did question set rules and things within the cult (a big saving grace otherwise I might have demoted another star) the main character known as Berie/Harmony did not. I know she was supposed to be a young teenager, malleable and striving for acceptance to the point of being willing to do anything, but I just couldn't buy it. Another difficulty I had was with Dice. I felt as if we didn't really get a good character explanation of who he was or why he was so captivating. I just didn't connect with why all of these people were so willingly following him to begin with. All in all, the book pretty much dragged the whole time and I couldn't believe our protagonist was still in the cult. The ending picked up a little, and I found myself pretty invested. 

Short review: Read this book if you want a slow-paced, cult fiction with not much at stake. If you're in this for the extremely twisted cult with the charismatic leader, don't bother. 

I received an advanced copy of the book via NetGalley. This does not impact my review.
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The Ash Family tells the story of a disaffected young woman who was pressured to go to college who really needed a gap year to figure out what she wanted. She doesn’t get on the plane to school and is soon picked up by a young man who invites her to join him with his family on a farm. The reader quickly realizes he is a cult recruiter and this won’t end well, but we’re seeing it all through her perspective and at first, it is wonderful. She feels a sense of purpose in her life for the first time.

Of course, it is not what she expected. She has a lot of work, hard work. The community reinforces its norms with peer pressure and with accountability sessions similar to the struggle sessions of the Chinese revolution, deeply humiliating, psychological torture that continues until a person breaks under the pressure of communal disapproval. We, as readers, can see the way the leader and the members of the commune enforce a new social order and strip away the past.

I liked The Ash Family quite a bit. It gave us a good depiction of how the self can be broken by a cult. We also saw how doubt and disquiet can grow and be fostered. Harmony was ripe for recruitment because she had no goals for her future. I also like the ambiguity at the end. Dektar excels at describing the land, with active and colorful language that makes it all come alive. This is an emotionally compelling book that offers us very contrasting characters from the charismatic leader to the enigmatic recruiter and from the indomitable Queen to the pliable Harmony. The characters are credible and complex, making for a very compelling story.

The Ash Family will be released April 9th. I received an e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.

The Ash Family at Simon & Schuster
Molly Dektar on Instagram
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Thank you NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an advanced readers copy of this book.  I was really excited about this book as the subject of cults fascinates me.  Unfortunately this book was lacking.  I found I did not care about the characters or the purpose of the cult.  I do not think I will remember this book in a few days.
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I really did try to get into this book, but it was a bit of a struggle. I'm usually all about reading about cults, but this was a bit draggy for me. Beautiful writing, though! Just...slow to start.
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Berie doesn’t really want to go to college, but her mom wants her to go.  On her way to college, she runs into Bay who introduces her to the idea of the cult and tells her she can stay for three days or the rest of her life.  He talks up the intentional community, how she will have everything she needs and her life will have purpose - just the way I am sure a recruiter for a cult might do.  Berie gets there and is not sure about the whole thing.  The cult is fighting a corporate entity that wants to develop the land around them and at times, Berie is into it and other times, she thinks they are taking it too far.  She starts to feel like she has no way out.

I liked the plot and the storyline of this book, but I did not like any of the characters and I did not like the writing style.  The writing is very literary and dreamy and relies on metaphor.  The characters have a dreamy, ethereal way of speaking that while it does sound like people in a cult, got really old after a while.  Personally, I would have preferred if Berie at least was more likable —she was a brat whose mother did so much for her and tried so hard and wanted the best for her daughter and sacrificed to send her to college and Berie just meets some guy and ditches all of her mom’s efforts to pay for college.  I would have preferred the writing style was more conversational and traditional.
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I really dislike writing negative reviews but, with this book, I can’t see any way around it. I could not finish this book. The cult members and “false world” references completely turned me off. (For me personally, the frequent use of the term “false world” brought to mind “fake news”.) I could not muster up any compassion for the characters in this story. In addition, the writing itself really needed some work. I really appreciate the advance egalley from Simon & Schuster. So sorry but I just cannot recommend this book.
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This was a quick read for me and sucked me in from the start. The writing is different and I loved the beautiful descriptions of nature/food. That said I spent the entire book being so frustrated with Berie/Harmony. I understand she was lost and trying to find her way but the fact she was so easily manipulated by Bay and Dice drove my cray cray. For that reason I could only give it 3 stars but I’m looking forward to reading more by this author. Her writing is so unique and atmospheric!
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This intriguing story follows “Harmony” as she discovers and lives with a cult - or, as they call it, a new family. They live off the grid and most of the book is about the day-to-day aspects of this unusual lifestyle. Cults fascinate me because I just don’t uderstand why people join them. Harmony wasn’t a very likable character, in my opinion, but I was still rooting for her the whole book.
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When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.

    At nineteen, Berie encounters a seductive and mysterious man at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Shut off from the people around her, she finds herself compelled by his promise of a new life. He ferries her into a place of order and chaos: the Ash Family farm. There, she joins an intentional community living off the fertile land of the mountains, bound together by high ideals and through relationships she can’t untangle. Berie—now renamed Harmony—renounces her old life and settles into her new one on the farm. She begins to make friends. And then they start to disappear.


My Thoughts: We meet Berie, the first person narrator of The Ash Family, as she veers off course, drawn in by a seductive man named Bay. Instead of flying off to college in Virginia, she leaves the airport and heads to a bus station where they meet. Together they journey to the farm community that promises to fulfill her need for something bigger than herself.

Berie apparently lacks something in her life that might be satisfied by such a community, and while I was almost sucked into its promise, I couldn’t understand what was missing in our protagonist that led her to such a community. We know little about her life up to this point, so her actions seem blindly unmotivated. If she had suffered abuse at home, or if she were fleeing something frightening, I could almost see why this young woman might be drawn in to its charms. Later we learn more about how sometimes not feeling anything at all can lead to wrong-footed choices.

The characters and the setting were beautifully described, and I could sense the appeal of Nature and a desire to preserve it in all its glory. Protecting the environment and people from the “fake world” could be a lure for someone like Beryl, now named Harmony.

It did not take long, however, to feel a sense of stultifying horror as nothing seemed to live up to that promise. A mix of cruelty and kindness, punishment and reward were the confusing elements that felt like a crazy-making scheme designed to hook in new family members. Searching for that sense of family and true purpose were powerful enough to blind new members to the underlying dangers…until it was too late.

In the end, we see hope come in unexpected forms, and the story leaves off just on the way to finding new possibilities. 4 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.
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When I was approached to review The Ash Family, I was a little hesitant about reviewing it. As weird as this sounds, I didn’t like the vibe that I got from the blurb. But, since I don’t reject publisher book requests through my email, I accepted. Now that I have read it, I wish that I didn’t. It bored me.

I could see why Berie/Harmony was such an easy mark for Bay. She was naive. I could also see why she was able to fall under the sway of Dice. She was searching for a father figure. But, I didn’t like her. She came across as selfish. Her memories of her mother cemented that fact. Her behavior while in the cult highlighted it also. She refused to learn other jobs. She tried to form a relationship with Bay when it was against the rules. There were points in the book where I had doubts if they would keep her. To top it off, her actions at the end of the book disturbed me.

The plotline was slow. It crept along. I can’t tell y’all how many times I fell asleep reading this book. Even the exciting parts, like the Queenie’s miscarriage or the end of the book, were boring. I had figured out what Dice’s deal was early in the book. So, I had to push myself to finish reading it.

I do think that the story had potential, which saved this review from being a 1-star review. But it was bogged down by the slow plotline and unlikable characters.

I also liked how the author showed what life would be like in a cult. I also liked that the author explained what life was like living off the grid. She didn’t sugarcoat anything.

The end of the book left me scratching my head. I had no clue what was going to happen to Berie/Harmony or the cult. Well, I had a good idea of what happened to the cult. But Berie/Harmony? No. Nothing was wrapped up. I didn’t get to see if Berie/Harmony got help or even reconciled with her mother. It was disappointing for me to read.

I would give The Ash Family an Adult rating. There is sex (nothing graphic). There is language. There is violence. I would recommend that no one under the age 21 read this book.

I would not reread The Ash Family. I also would not recommend this book to family and friends.

I would like to thank the publisher, the author, and NetGalley for allowing me to read and review The Ash Family.

All opinions stated in this review of The Ash Family are mine.

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Berie seems to be at odds with life. She is heading off to college, wanting to leave her mother, not really wanting to leave her ex. She comes across a man named Bay who tells her he can take her to a place where she will find her answers. His “family” is run by a man named Dice. He teaches them to live off the land, buck the system, prepare for the worst. Berie becomes Harmony and tries to adapt to a whole new way of life. Things are not all peaches and cream though.  Are there ever in a cult? What happens to those who want to leave?

I always wonder about what makes a person become so involved in a cult. I am still wondering about Berie. I did not get the vibes that she was really that lost but she sure becomes more so while she is at the commune. I also did not get that enigmatic feel from Dice. That is not to say that the writing was not great, because it was. The descriptions of the day to day life were deep and I felt like I was there. You actually felt like you were as dirty as their bodies are described. Made me want to soak in a hot tub. Berie was not a very likable character but I really loved Queen. My heart broke for her.

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for an advance copy of this book.
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THE ASH FAMILY by Molly Dektar was a bit of a roller coaster for me. I went back and forth between caring about the main character Berie, and wanting to shake her out of the haze she was in because of the cult (or "community") she joined instead of heading to college. I wish there was a little more about why Berie felt this cult was the answer to her struggles, and that it wasn't such a straight-forward cult narrative that we have seen many times before. The leader, Dice, was truly terrifying (as a good cult leader should be, I suppose). He straight up killed people, kept the members hostage (even if they didn't realize it), and was emotionally abusive. But his "teachings" were gibberish, and the land they lived on seemed awfully uninhabitable, so I spent most of the book wondering what on earth Berie was thinking when she insisted she wanted to stay for years.

The highs of the book made me want to keep going, but as with all roller coasters, the lows that followed those highs left me frustrated and I had a hard time muddling through. I feel like a good fictional cult needs to be somewhat enticing, but this one was depressing and worrisome from the beginning. The writing was wonderful though, and made me feel like I really was in the South Carolina mountains, as terrible and depressing as the cult members were while there. A solid debut novel with a few bumps along the gravel road.
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The Ash Family is an impressive debut.  I am always intrigued by any books revolving around cults or folks choosing to live off grid.  This novel and it's premise of a "family" was no exception. The story follows a young woman, newly identified as Harmony, as she goes from escaping her mother's expectations for her and finds herself with the Ash Family. There she begins to follow a new lifestyle of living off the land, zero connections to the fake world and looking for something that will allow her to feel connected.  Then people she finds herself bonding to begin to disappear.  Harmony is forced to really look at what is going on rather than what she wishes it to be. If you enjoyed The Girls by Emma Cline then this is an absolute must read!
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. With its unique storyline this book is indeed a very good book to calm your mind.
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Lyrically written and haunting story of a young girl who gives up everything to join what I would call a cult. It's not religion-based but instead it's an off-the-grid community who protests in the name of environmental activism even if it is often misguided. Berie who is renamed Harmony is recruited by Bay, a mysterious young man right after she decides that she is not getting on the bus to college even though her mother has paid for the experience. I found this story painful to read-Berie is really lead down a dark path and I was horrified by some of the choices that she made. At the end, I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to know what happened with the rest of her life! I've given it four stars because the story's language was so beautiful.
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for the ARC in return for my honest review.
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I loved this. I don't have much else to say so I'm going to repeat myself. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this. I loved this.
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When I began this book, I was fairly certain it would end up as a DNF for me.  However, I was interested enough to keep reading and give it a chance.  While I did have some issues with the story, I also was intrigued and engaged with what was happening.

A young woman named Beryl is headed to college, but suddenly decides to go off the grid and join this “family”  and take a new name, cutting all ties with her former life.  I never did understand why Beryl’s  life was in such a state that she felt compelled to join this group and just disappear.

The writing reminded me somewhat of stories like The Handmaid’s Tale, where there are sparse details, so the reader must try and imagine what is going on behind the scenes.  I wasn’t that pleased with the ending.  I’m guessing it was purposefully written to be confusing.

I’m glad I stayed the course and finished the book.  I liked it in spite of a few issues I had with the story.  This is a debut novel, so I look forward to seeing future work from this author.

Many thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for allowing me to read an advance copy and give my honest review.
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For a book about a cult, this was rather bland. The cult leader isn't especially charming-no one is really-which caused me to constantly wonder why they stayed. Life for "the family" seems hard. They work all day and are never allowed any real enjoyment. I found myself asking what about this boring existence would make them want to stay? Some of the members would go off to protests, but we never get any first hand experience of that. This book has good bones, but needs to be punched up a bit. Overall, I just needed to see a compelling reason why anyone would follow this guy and live this life other than they just didn't have anything else better to do.
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The cult/off-the-grid-community premise is always an intriguing one for me. Knowing how intelligent people with seemingly great lives and so much potential become seduced by the idea of this kind of connection is fascinating to me. 

Molly Dektar creates a completely visceral and palpable universe in the woods - I smell the animals, I can taste the chicken fat covered bread, I can smell the earthy aroma of the Ash family. Despite feeling connected to it via the prose, I can't picture myself in that world. 

Our narrator, Berie, escaped her life in Durham, North Carolina without telling her somewhat estranged mother or her ex-boyfriend Isaac, when she ran into a charming drifter named Bay who frequently leaves the Asher commune to shop for new family members. Berie's constant struggle for acceptance and love throughout the story is heartbreaking, as is her continued waffling between doing what she wants and doing what she believes should should for her new family. A great read. Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC!!
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Thanks to netgalley for the preview!

The imagery and descriptions in this book were wonderful. I could easily picture the forest and the animals and imagine the whole compound. I liked the idea of this book- a seemingly normal girl ditching college to join a commune or cult. We’ve all had those moments where we cannot deal with big changes and are tempted to run away. I think many readers will relate to that feeling.  I just felt like the book never piqued my interest.  I think I was continually  waiting for the moment Harmony was  going to wake up from the trance and try to run away. I felt like her exit from the commune was a little anticlimactic and I really wanted to see her triumphant over the people that had been brainwashing her. I didn’t love the book but I could see others enjoying it.
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