The Ash Family

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

A book about a young woman leaving home to attend college but is waylaid by a charismatic cult recruiter. Why she goes with him, and what she hopes to seek, I still don't know. She tries to fit in, and not want materialistic things she isn't supposed to want. The description of the farm, the writing for the most part is pretty good. The story, and cults in particular is not as successful. I am drawn to books about cults, but find them lacking in many areas. 
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for an ARC of this book for an honest review.
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This is the first book I've read about cult culture so I really wanted to like it but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I would have rated it 2 stars but I'm giving it 3 because the author is very poetic and she knows how to paint a vivid picture. Unfortunately, there were several parts of the book that were either confusing, left open-ended, or seemed to detract from the overall story.

Pros: 
- The story starts immediately. You don't have to read multiple chapters before the action begins.
- The writer does a great job of developing the main character, Beryl/Harmony, so you feel like you can sympathize with her and understand why she is so easily manipulated. But you also know you can't trust her because she has been brain-washed.
- There are enough suspenseful moments that keep you reading. I was always wondering "Will she leave? Will she stay? Will someone come? Will she die?"

Cons:
- There are numerous sad and/or gruesome animal slaughter scenes that made it difficult to continue reading. I think some of those moments could have been skimmed over, or even left out, without detracting from the overall ominous feel of the story. But, i'm a softy for animals so it sat uneasily with me. 
- There were several sudden changes of pace throughout the book that simply felt confusing. For example, a couple of characters are riding along in a car and then without building or warning, all the sudden there is a conflict and Beryl is hurt and crying. OR when Harmony is suddenly pulled out of bed for what could have been a very sinister moment, only to go lay in the grass and have an emotional cry. Maybe these were intentional but it left me turning back a few pages to see what I may have missed.
- The story ends with a lot of loose ends untied. I would have loved to see an epilogue. 

Overall I felt this book was average at best but I'd be interested to read another one of Molly Dektar's books to see what else she can write about. Thanks #NetGalley for the ARC!
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Fear the outside world! Life is dangerous!
Lured by a man she's never met, Berie joins what appears to be a cult, with a leader promising her a new life.
Under disguise using an alias Harmony lives off the fertile land in the mountains high above civility.
Do what you think will make you happy but remember choices come with consequences.
Brainwashing, escapism, cults full of promises--It's all in here with this new family and new community. Darkness is closing in!
Thank you to Molly, the publisher, NetGalley, and Aldiko for this ARC in exchange for this honest review.
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According to the Psychiatric Times, one percent of people have been involved with a cult. According to your local bookseller, though, at least 20 times that proportion of literary fiction readers have had some contact with a novel about a cult — and that number, friends, is rapidly rising.

Not that the Ash Family, eponymous commune of Molly Dektar’s debut novel, would call themselves a cult. They prefer something much more grandiloquent: they call their North Carolina compound the “real world,” in contrast to this fake world of smoke and mirrors and blog posts and antibiotics.

We see their world through the eyes of Berie, who decides to play hooky from her freshman year of college to hop in a truck with Bay, a dirty dude with “a busted-looking face and gentle canine eyes” whose idea of flirting is to poke a red-hot stick into an infected wound his passenger got from a rusty splinter while breaking into a house to steal winter coats because “property” is an illusion.

It’s hard to see the Ash Family’s attraction, an early deficit the novel never quite makes up. Dektar throws Berie — who becomes “Harmony” in the family — straight into her new life, so we largely have to take the narrator’s occasionally expressed word for it that the first two decades of her life have left her troubled and discontent.

The family’s rule is that you either spend three days with them, or a lifetime. Once Harmony’s trial period has elapsed, Dektar starts jumping spans of weeks and months with surprising speed. That allows her to describe the changing of seasons and the rhythms of the family’s (more or less) self-sustaining farm life, but it leaves character development stretched uncomfortably thin.

Harmony’s landed in a wild, foreign, uncomfortable, and pretty scary situation, but after a few colorful incidents we’re given to understand that she soldiers along and even comes to love her new family life. There are only a few key family members we learn much about, one of whom is a friend named Queen. It’s obvious that Harmony’s relationship with Queen will cause problems, because otherwise there won’t be much of a plot.

As the seasons come and go, Dektar puts Harmony through a series of mystical and metaphorical tests that become ever more troubling, but never really conveys a sense of struggle. Harmony seems like a spectator of her own life, in a manner that seems more a product of style than substance.

What we learn about Harmony’s actual wants and needs is fairly minimal. She wants to hook up with the ugly-sexy Bay, but he’s not into it for reasons that we never quite grasp. (What else, or who else, is he doing with his time?) She grows to enjoy the farm life, and rarely if ever misses her phone or her friends or her underwear. Typical evening entertainment consists of singing hymns and listening to allegorical stories told by the family head, a dude named Dice, and that’s basically enough for Harmony.

Because Dektar never really gets a handle on Harmony’s connection to the family, it’s hard for us to understand her choices when the stakes start to rise. An obvious point of comparison is Emma Cline’s acclaimed The Girls (2016), a novel inspired by the Manson cult, and The Ash Family suffers by comparison because Cline keeps a careful focus on her protagonist’s processing.

By contrast, The Ash Family feels gauzy and distant even at its most shocking moments. Dektar makes Dice’s cult seem transparently appalling, and yet we have to accept that Harmony becomes tied to the group through mechanisms that are never fully elucidated. It’s one thing to have a character who doesn’t fully understand herself, it’s another to have one who hardly even bothers to try.
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The Ash Family is a farming commune in the mountains of North Carolina. Berie is a young woman who doesn't know what she wants and has let her mother and her boyfriend tell her what to do until the moment she leaves for university and decides not to go, turning around and taking a bus to Asheville. At the bus stop, she encounters the charismatic Bay, who brings her to the Ash family farm and where she learns to work with farm animals, and is drawn into the close and tightly controlled group led by Dice, who also leads the inner circle of his group in a little light eco-terrorism. Berie is desperate to be trusted enough to join them and throws herself into the endless tasks involved in pulling a living out of the land. She's also desperate to get time with Bay, who is often gone recruiting new members and desperate to be accepted and find a home within the Ash Family. 

As Molly Dektar's debut novel goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that the Ash Family is not a benign group and equally clear that the members are being kept under tight control and surveillance. Berie's need for belonging can't entirely hide the less savory aspects of the commune from her, especially as her one friend is protecting a secret and Berie will not be able to remain free of the consequences. And, back in Durham, there are people worried about her and while they might be able to tell her that they want her to come home, whether or not Berie leaves is entirely up to her. 

While the novel does sometimes feel predictable and research into cults makes itself known, Dektar's writing is strong and clear. Berie is a wonderful character, very much an eighteen year old, but also a young woman who has a moral compass and who develops into someone who knows herself over the course of this novel.
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I couldn't wait to read this one since it was set in my state of North Carolina but to be honest I am still trying to wrap my head around this one. It tells the story of Berie who is about to go off and attend college but when she meets a mysterious man at a bus stop she travels to the NC mountains to join the "Ash Family." This family lives off the land and has untraditional views of the world. Once settled into this life it begins to control her mind. How will this life continue to play out for her?

This was a very interesting book but is definitely not for everyone. If you have an interest in clans, cults, or commune living then this book may be for you.
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The Ash Family left me feeling haunted, disturbed...in the most gripping way. 

This reminded me of “The Girls”, which I loved so much. I appreciated the ways that this story paralleled with my own life as a millennial from Appalachia finding my way.

“Harmony” is stripped of herself and born anew as a member of the Ash family, a family that prioritizes the environment and communal values. Together they live on a farm in the mountains of North Carolina where they must abide by the family rules. Dice is their fearless leader, full of wisdom and lessons to be learned.

Ah, Appalachia. I absolutely loved the setting for this story. You can tell that the Dektar is from Appalachia with the familiar way she describes the scenery, the weather, the plant life. The descriptive language had me feeling nostalgic and homesick for the mountains I grew up in.

It was very intriguing to read about holistic off-grid living in this way. It felt rewarding, daunting, harsh, purposeful, and powerful. Dektar did a brilliant job describing all facets of what this type of living must be like. 

This was definitely a creepy story that oozed suspense like any good psychological thriller does. It asks us what lengths we are willing to go to feel as if we belong. In what ways are we willing to sacrifice?

I really like the nuanced emotions woven throughout. I especially felt like the friendship between Harmony and Queen was so beautifully written. Unfortunately, for me, many of the other characters fell a little flat. I had more questions than answers and wasn’t able to connect with them as fully as I would have liked.

I loved the concepts of this novel, what a wonderful debut! 3.5 stars from me on this one.
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I was really excited about this book, and I wanted to love it — for most of the time I was reading it, I did really enjoy it. I’ve been fascinated by cults, and cult-like communities for a long time. I’ve read all I can about Charles Manson, and the Branch Davidians, and Jonestown. I’m fascinated with the leaders of these cults, and by the people who join them. Do the leaders actually believe what they’re spouting, or are they just trying to manipulate others to do their bidding? And the followers — how do they fall into this trap?

People are individuals, but members of cults — from what I’ve read — tend to have similar characteristics: they’re lonely, doing some soul-searching, and they feel as though they don’t fit into societal norms. They’re searching for their niche, the place where they can belong, and community of people who understand. They want a greater purpose, and don’t find it in their day-to-day lives. They’re vulnerable.

The same can be said for the protagonist of this novel, Berie. She’s 19, and she’s supposed to be headed to college — because this is what her mother and her boyfriend want and expect of her. She, however, wants something more — something “greater.” When she meets a man at a bus stop, she follows him back to his community in the hills of Appalachia, and becomes a member of the “Ash Family.”

She changes her name to Harmony, lives off of the land, hunts her own food, herds sheep, and engages in sing-a-longs and storytellings with the other members of the family. She does whatever she needs to to impress the leader of the family.

The leader of the Ash Family, Dice, is as general a cult-leader as one would expect. He does and says what he needs to in order to keep his followers in line — he acts as a benevolent and all-knowing force, and his “family” falls all over itself trying to keep him happy — ignoring the fact that much of what he asks for is illegal and deadly.

As Berie (Harmony) strives to earn the trust of the family, she falls deeper and deeper into their clutches, and completely abandons her former life and all within it.

This book contains all the ingredients of a perfect cult novel – the enigmatic leader and his slightly crazy (but not entirely incomprehensible or incorrect) beliefs; the brainwashed followers with horrible and tragic backstories, searching desperately for belonging; the slightly-less brainwashed followers who are in the beginning stages of disillusionment; the beautiful, but desolate setting (in this case the Smoky Mountains); finally, the slowly building and anxiety-inducing plot.

With all of these elements in place — well-written, expertly described, and strongly researched, I enjoyed reading this novel, and I read it quickly — staying up late to finish (and begin) new chapters.

Until the end. The ending of this novel left me wanting so much more. I saw it going in a completely different direction, and I also thought the ending would have a resolution. The plot continued to build and then it reached its climax… and (in my opinion) puttered out. The best metaphor I can think of for this is the cartoon cannon. At the back of the cartoon cannon, someone lights the fuse, and as the fuse continues to burn, you wait for the explosion… but then, once the fuse is fully lit, a little white flag pops out. That’s how I felt about the ending of this novel.

Endings are important to me, and I was disappointed when I put the book down. However — with this said, if you enjoy cult stories, I still think you should give this one a read. This is Dektar’s first novel and it’s a strong novel at that. It’s well-written, fast paced, and ultimately engaging. Additionally, you might feel differently about the ending (if so, let’s chat).

The Ash Family is currently available for pre-order on Amazon, and will officially hit shelves on April 9, 2019.

*Thank you to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for the e-arc of this novel.*
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The premise of this novel seems very interesting; who isn't fascinated by what leads people on the path toward cult living? What I didn't get was a clear enough path to the characters reasons why, so it let me feeling like I missed the point.
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Before joining the Ash family, Berie is seeking something more in her life.  She meets Bay, an enigmatic man who speaks to her soul.  Berie moves to a compound, becomes Harmony, and begins her life with her new family.
Cult stories always fascinate me, and The Ash Family is a great depiction of such.  What makes a person disbelieve and disavow everything in their life to follow the ideas of another?  Would you choose a new life to replace your old one? At what cost?
“Three days or the rest of your life...”. But whose life is it when you choose to follow?
A great read by Molly Dektar, looking forward to more from her.
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If there was one book I was excited about, it was the “Ash Family” by Molly Dektar. It tells a story of a young woman named Berie who leaves her family and college life behind to join a cult and becomes Harmony. Throughout the story she tries to fit in any way she can, however, she is always questioning things which isn’t very popular throughout the cult. To be honest, I was very disappointed in this book. I had such high expectations, but I found it to be quite boring. I watched my boyfriend play Fry Cry and thought the story would be like that game and it wasn’t. I wanted something more out of this book. I thought there would be a lot more action and there wasn’t. Hence, the 3-star rating.
I do want to say thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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The Ash Family tells the story of “Harmony” as she flees her college bound path and ends up with a group living in the wilderness. She easily buys in to everything the leader, Dice, feeds her, but it’s quickly clear to the reader that this is not what she was looking for. (Not-so-spoiler spoiler alert: it’s a cult!!!) 
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Like many people, I find the dynamics of a cult intriguing. How does anyone fall for any of the cult babble?! But it happens. And it’s scary. I enjoyed this story but I wanted more. How did she get to this point in her life? And the ending was not enough. A solid 3 star, it was good, kind of book.
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This book kept me on the edge of my seat.  The Ash family seemed sketchy to me the entire book and I was rooting for Harmony to "wake" and leave.  I had a hard time understanding what made her want to join with them in the beginning, but I think that is due to my own feelings of family.  I can't imagine what would drive her to that.
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So I guess Dektar was giving is a 'cult 101' class with this story.
I was left feeling a bit *meh* after reading it, I was obviously expecting something else. I thought it was going to be a slightly dark and twisted novel. I found more of a soul search inspirational novel that wasn't quite fully executed.

Putting those pre conceived expectations for fiction occult novels aside, Dektar wrote some interesting characters. 
Our little friend, Berie aka Harmony, is 'chosen' to come and live with the Ash Family. I would have to say that is just about the most exciting thing that happens to her. There are a few disturbing events, however, most of the details of these events are questionable. Not only do we have an unreliable narrator but the family that she lives with is seeped in manipulated 'truths'. Dektar certainly had me hating Dice, the fearless leader, and wanting so much more from Bay.
I guess you could read this and question your own priorities or maybe see how people are manipulated every day into seeing reality in the way society (in this case with the mask of a cult leader) dictates. I kept waiting for the moment of 'aha' to hit whenever Berie was going through one of her muddled brain/grasping at the secrets of life moments. I just never really got on board. I am not claiming to be enlightened, this one just didn't flip my switch.
I would be willing to read another novel by Molly Dektar just to see what kind of range she has as a writer. I just wouldn't necessarily recommend this one.
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I’m always fascinated by this type of cult novels, but there have been so many written in the last few years that in many respects, we already have a pretty good idea of we are going to get. 

And this was the case with the Ash Family. There was not much to set it apart from those that came before it, but it was not a bad book. 

I enjoyed the prose, and thought that the depiction of everyday life in ‘the Family’ was well done, but I was not especially taken with the protagonist, Harmony. 

She is, expectedly, naive, but she doesn’t seem to grow emotionally as the novel unfolds, which I found surprising. I’m not sure if it was by design, to demonstrate the insidiousness of cults, but as a result, the ending left me feeling unsatisfied and it felt a bit unbelievable. 

I received a complimentary ARC from Simon and Schuster, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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There’s just something inherently fascinating about cult stories: What makes someone give up their life to join one? How do they become seduced by it despite the red flags? When and how to utopian ideals transform into something dangerous and controlling?

Seeking something more out of life than college and settling down, 19-year-old Berie joins the Ash Family, a community of eco-terrorists living off the grid in the woods of North Carolina.

Drawn to their “essential” lifestyle, she is determined to do anything to earn the trust of the Family’s charismatic leader, Dice. As suspicious events start happening, Berie is torn between her ties to those she cares about both inside and outside the Family and her devotion to their mission of giving up the self for the purpose of the community and the environment.

Debut novelist Molly Dektar creates such a vivid setting, atmosphere and mood. There’s a subtle feeling of ominous tension that she teases out, while simultaneously lending insight into Berie’s desperate need for belonging. Her ambivalence is what keeps her so interesting as a character: constantly teetering between doing what she wants to do and doing what she feels like she ought to do—and often confusing the two.

Fans of cult novels like Emma Cline’s The Girls and lush mysteries like Abby Geni’s The Lightkeeper’s will certainly like this one.
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Nineteen-year-old Berie was on her way to college when a charismatic man, she met, changed her mind. Bay represented everything that Berie was looking for, freedom, saving the environment, and belonging to a family. Even though Beri’s mother worked, scraped, and sacrificed to send her daughter to college, Berie followed her new friend Bay, instead. 

Beri was told she could stay at the Ash farm for three days or for the rest of her life. When Beri decided to stay on, she was accepted into the Ash family and given a new name. It was a culture shock, at first, for Beri, when she was required to relinquish her possessions, work long hours on the farm, and bathe only once a week. But, once Beri, aka Harmony, had the new routine down, she felt good. And, the longer Harmony stayed, the more comfortable she became with the leader’s strange thinking, and the Ash family’s backward way of doing things. It was all wonderful until Harmony realized that when people left the farm, they usually didn’t survive. 

I enjoyed this book and found the storyline fascinating. I am always amazed at how easy it is for some people to accept a cult’s teaching and then become trapped in that lifestyle. A friend tried to help Harmony escape, but it was the Ash family’s leader who had Harmony’s loyalty. 


Thank you,  Simon & Schuster and NetGalley, for my advanced review copy.
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Berie is supposed to be on her way to college, and her Mom thinks she is on her way to the airport. But Berie meets Bay who is charming with a magnetic personality just what you would expect in a cult recruiter. Berie decides to follow him, although it might be just for a few days to see how she likes it. A story about how easy some find it to prey on the vulnerable lost souls.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Warm and engagingly written, this novel has shades of both Station Eleven and The Girls. Not as wide a range of characters as I would typically like, but an enjoyable debut nonetheless.
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I thought this was interesting but definitely not for me. Seeing a first-person fictional story about joining a cult is pretty unique in itself and the writing was truly great. I was engaged the entire time that I was reading this. 

That being said, the ending was a bit chaotic which felt very forced with how the author's writing style had been up until that point. Overall it was great though, definitely an interesting read even if it turns out that I'm just not that interested in this type of novel.
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