Cover Image: The Ash Family

The Ash Family

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Member Reviews

This novel is about doing what makes YOU happy. It has interesting cult aspects, which I really appreciated. The pacing was a bit slow but the plot was still amazing. Thank you to Netgalley and to the publisher for providing an e-arc in exchange for an honest review.
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I've read several books about cults and enjoyed them all, but this one was quite different in the haunting way the story unfolds. Berie (aka Harmony in the Ash Family compound) is a nineteen-year-old woman who is supposed to board an airplane for college, when she meets the magnetic Bay at a bus stop and he convinces her to travel with him to their mountain community. Their credo is, "You can stay 3 days or the rest of your life." Sounds appealing, right? But of course we know how these enigmatic leaders suss out the weak, the lost, the vulnerable, and then seduce and manipulate them into believing they are loved and part of a greater "whole." And so Harmony is sucked into this "family" as they work constantly with livestock and nature, growing their own crops and sustaining themselves under the leadership of Dice, the Father Figure of the group. And of course there is more than just "harmony" in the group; there are protests and "actions" that involve the members putting their lives at risk, all in the name of community and fighting back at the "fake" world,
     But the difference with this book is Dektar's writing; it is both hypnotic and haunting as we see from Harmony's perspective how she is slowly taken in by the smooth-talking Dice and taught to "get relativity" and "there's no such thing as a definite self." Huh?? But she wants to believe so strongly that she gives into these nebulous theories and believes all the wild allegations that Siberia is melting and Armageddon is close on its heels. With many other novels like these, I find myself thinking, "How can you not see what is happening here?" But with this book, even though Harmony is naive and needy, somehow I sympathized with her as she desperately clings to the idea that she loves Bay and she will come to be trusted. Granted, it's uncomfortable reading at times, but isn't part of reading a good book getting out of one's comfort zone to uncover truths that permeate society?
So hats off to Dektar for a marvelous debut novel! I certainly look forward to more from her!
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Such a truly wonderful story that you can immerse yourself in. The way the author writes this really connects and I found myself lost in the words. So much conflict filled into the pages, it really makes you think and try to look beyond the story itself. I highly recommend.
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It was fascinating to read about a fictional cult from the first person perspective, especially with the timeline beginning right before Berie formally joins The Ash Family. The everyday details of how a cult like this lives seemed very authentic - I wish there were more! I also wish I got to know the other characters a bit better. I kept having to remind myself that there were around 30 people in the "family" because from Berie's - renamed Harmony - perspective, it seemed like there were 5. If the family were so dependent on each other, wouldn't she interact with others more? However, the characters she did interact with regularly seemed genuine enough. Dice, the family's father, was a very believable character. 

The story is told reflectively, which propels you to the ending to figure out what eventually happens with this community. The ending is unfortunately far too abrupt and, consequently, unsatisfying. I would have loved maybe another 20 pages with a more resolute and consequential conclusion.
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I am not sure how I feel about this one. I thought it was well written, very vivid images. But Berie/Harmony drove me nuts. She just seemed too naive and clueless and I had a hard time believing that with her back story that would be the case. I tried to just go with it, but I kept coming back to just wanting to slap her. Which I guess is a little the point and why I would never make it in a cult. I would definitely read another work by this author though.
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I love the cover of this book! The Ash Family tells the story of a confused young woman. Berie is on her way to college. While at a bus station, she meets Bay. Here's a guy who can smoothly tell Berie exactly what she wants to hear. She already hates her mother, boyfriend, etc., so she is easily convinced to go with Bay. He takes her to a commune/cult called The Ash Family located in the North Carolina mountains. Berie is renamed Harmonie. She will be cleansed and pure like a new person and serve mother Earth. Naive? Yes. To be young and stupid......She is being brainwashed and stripped of any individual identity. A cult is like one living thing. Will she become fully immersed in the Ash Family, or will she realize who she is? The story is a quest for self identity, by process of unusual and sometimes sinister cult traditions/ceremonies? I liked the description of the cult's inner workings and would have liked more of that. Berie is a troubled, sympathetic and complex character. The story is believable and plausible. It's well written and unfolds slowly at first, but the pacing is better toward the second half. Overall, a good read. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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The Ash Family is a beautifully written coming of age story that does involve a cult, but is more about how one sees oneself and the truth about who we are/what we've done/the choices we've made. Thoughtful, lyrical, and definitely for fans of literary fiction
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I’m still processing this one. I didn’t like any of the characters, yet couldn’t stop reading. Interesting peek into cult culture and mindset.
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Mixed feelings about this one. I enjoyed the details about life with the family. Much of the writing describing the mountains and Harmony's inner-life is lovely. But I kept wanting more from the story - why did Harmony/Beryl feel she had to leave her mother and what attracted her so instantly to Bay? There's little revealed in her back-story and honestly, when we do get glimpses into her life with her mother she comes across as a bit of a brat. It's obvious that being abandoned by her father resulted in her constantly seeking approval from men, first Issac, then Bay, then Dice. I became annoyed by her constant neediness for their approval (but recognize that those are exactly the type of people who join a cult). There's plenty to discuss here that would make this book a good book club choice I just wish the author had provided a little more insight into Harmony's life before the cult.
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Molly Dektar's The Ash Family is lyrical and uneasy, leaving the reader consistently unsure of who to trust. While her mother believes she is on her way to college, Beryl finds herself instead on a search for her identity and belonging- which leads her to the mysterious Ash family, a cult-like group in the mountains of North Carolina led by the Manson-esque Dice. After making her decision to stay "three days or the rest of her life," the story progresses through the seasons and the shifting dynamics of the commune. The magical sense of place is starkly juxtaposed with the ever increasing dark atmosphere of the "family" as Beryl cannot or will not see the reality of her situation. Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!
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Faith Healing for *Harmony*!!! ( real name was Beryl or Berie for short) 
Laughing yet?   I wanted to....
but unfortunately- I only laughed when sharing ‘about’ this novel with my husband during reading ‘breaks’. 
I’d read Paul a few paragraphs. His questions made me laugh.
Paul asked me “what are the rules about soap?” 
“I don’t know, Paul.  The ‘rules’ about soap wasn’t explained clearly....only that it was a ‘rule’ to follow along with a list of other rules at the ASH FAMILY FARM”.

I’m 66 years old. I grew up in Berkeley during the Vietnam War - hippies - flower children - drugs - rock-n-roll - and communes.  I was a no-fun-straight-lace type myself - but everyone my age lived through the chaos years of ‘free-love’ - ‘who am I?’ - and ‘all-we-are-saying-is-give-peace-a-chance’. 

So.... I thought reading ‘The Ash Family’... (taking a  journey with ‘Harmony’ would be nostalgic fun. 
The problem was - it lacked dazzling pizzazz. 
Or ..... ‘maybe’... I was too familiar with this topic. 
Nothing felt ‘eye-opening’ to me personally - 
But it’s possible other - readers - even young readers - might find this story riveting.  In fact - I’d love to know how 18 and 19 year olds would relate to this book today. 

Holistic living in the North Carolina with ‘The Ash Family’...is creepy haunting...
We question ‘the rules’ & the cult type environment:
....the group leader’s beliefs and authority...
....recruitment tactics...
....destructive acts... 
....the purpose for isolation and socially unorthodox mechanisms...
.... the psychological repercussions....
..... Financial demands that threaten the individual’s well being. 
....restrictive access to information...
.... etc. we question love - Family - belonging -personal intimacy needs. 

...Dice is the Ash Family leader. He used to work as an engineer- but “felt he couldn’t keep propping up the fake world forever”. 
...Harmony was told she could stay three days or the rest of her life. She stayed longer than 3 days— about two years—
but she often thought about her past - ( thoughts about her mother & boyfriend- Isaac)...she was trying to figure out her own beliefs.  

...Two dozen young people lived on the farm...( having left the “fake world”)...you’ll get to know Bay, Dice, Sara- Gemini- and others in the community.  
...Harmony hadn’t seen her father since she was six years old. Her relationship with her mother was unsettling. We see Harmony often comparing both worlds. 
...Little utopia was an isolated mountain. Besides the 20-30 people ... there were sixty sheep, thirty cows, four pigs, twelve geese, sixty chickens, a raw milk dairy, an orchard, a vegetable patch, and an old farmhouse.  
....The members shared everything- clothes - money- their minds - and bodies. 

Lost souls got along with lost souls! 
Harmony let herself fall into Dice’s leadership and enchantment.
Dice said: “universes may blossom like soap bubbles, their space-time so curved they are smaller than atoms”.   ( touchy-feely speaking) ... I did laugh at that sentence! 🤣

This story gets a little Cuckoo-Crazy towards the end - but also asks us to look at sacrifices- our willingness to face pain to save mother-earth! 

I liked the concepts of this novel ( great debut).
I would have enjoyed a little more spicy seasoning.  ( more playful satire dialogue)...
But I liked it!   🙂 3.5 rating

Thank you Simon & Schuster, Netgalley, and Molly Dektar
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Berie is a young woman on the brink of transition. On her way to start a new chapter at college, her identity is amorphous, yearning to be shaped. When she meets a mysterious man who promises her a more purposeful existence, she follows him to an off-grid homestead united under what Berie sees as the most noble cause: to reverse the dangerous impact humans have had on the earth.

Molly Dektar’s striking, poetic prose in "The Ash Family" is vivid and captivating. I can sense her tender love for North Carolina in the descriptions of its plants, foods, and wildlife. I could feel a fierce desire to protect the earth radiate through the main character. With all of her faults and naïveté, I could see myself in her place as a teenager, swept up in the personalities and agendas of others more powerful. I was always looking for validation and a hill to die on, for the “right” way to live life.

The book is effective in its exploration of the psyche of a cult victim. Berie's is the only voice the reader encounters, which helps us get to know her well. Though Berie's decisions were at times horrifying, the author did a beautiful job of taking the reader down her path. I thought that some of the relationships Berie has with others could have been explored even more. The book could also benefit from a deeper look at the commune outside of Berie as well—what brought everyone there? I would love to learn more about Pear, Bay, and Queen.

Thank you very much to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This book sounds so good - there's a cult, it's Appalachia, the blurb says something about missing people. Ideally, you should have the trappings of a thriller, but the blurb is misleading. This is not what I would call a thriller, and honestly I was rather bored through half of it. The pace finally picks up a bit at the halfway mark, but it still slows, reving up in fits and starts like an old clunky car. Perhaps I'm being unfair, because there are good parts. The book tells the story of Beryl, an 18-year-old who was supposed to be on her way to college but ends up on a homestead in western North Carolina, and by "homestead" I mean "full-on cult". It's an interesting exploration of identity and the ease with which young adults (all adults really) can be swayed and taken in by a bit of charisma. There's also some good digs at America's denial of climate change. I would venture to say that overall, it's a good book, it just didn't meet my expectations.
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Instead of getting on a plane for college, Berie goes to a commune in the forest with Bay, a charismatic man recruiting for Dice and his "family." Berie was never satisfied with her life, with her mother who wanted her to go to college, with her boyfriend Isaac, an artist with whom she had attempted small anti-establishment efforts. 

But Dice and his group truly are anti-establishment. They live on the land, forage for food, scavenge Dumpsters from the "fake world" to bring back to their real world. They make their own soap - and bullets. They create their own medicines - and bombs. They are not just counterculture but anti-culture.

Berie (rechristened Harmony) follows Bay because she has fallen for him but she soon learns that there are no couples in the Ash Family, there are no possessions. You either stay for 3 days and leave or you stay forever. There are heavy consequences for broken rules and for attempts to leave.

Who doesn't love a book about cults? I was drawn to this title because of that description. It's a fascinating portrait of a girl who is manipulated by a cult. So well-written, the descriptions of the sky and the animals so vivid -I love how Harmony frames things that are truly ugly into things of beauty. We see how this naive young woman sees the world in such a different way than most of us do because she is desperate to not be like her mother and the rest of the mundane world. The ending was a little unsatisfactory because it felt incomplete but otherwise I thought this was a compelling story.

Thanks to Netgalley for the arc to review.
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What would you do if a strange, handsome man with scarred arms offered you an opportunity at a new life in the mountains with a new family, a chosen family? For three days, or the rest of your life? Would you accept?

The novel centers around Berie, who knows she doesn't want the manufactured future her mother is pushing her toward: college, a job, normalcy. She's idealistic and considers herself an environmentalist. She doesn't know what she wants, except to help make the world a better place in a tangible way. And then she meets Bay, who offers her exactly that: a community living off the land in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. There are no possessions, no couples, no children, no medicine. Lead by Dice, a giant of a man with a mystical air, they work and protect the land, using all means necessary.

Soon she finds herself renamed Harmony, stripped of everything she once owned, sleeping on mattress in an icy barn, and herding sheep up and down a mountainside. This isn't my idea of a good time, but it's actually easy to slip into Berie/Harmony's head, even if you yourself (likely) wouldn't make similar decisions. Told from a first-person point of view, our narrator gives us the thoughts the keep Berie with the family, that show what she feels she's found with them. We understand the connections she builds and those she longs to make. Cults are a constant source of mystery—their draw, their ability to keep their members contained—and it was interesting exploring that element through this novel.

I'm kind of going back and forth between a 3 and a 3.5 with this one. On the one hand, I read it really fast for me (granted I've been sick for a week, and reading in short bursts is about all I could manage at certain points), but I did notice minor structural issues. This could be because I was reading an advanced copy, and maybe some of them will be worked out in the final version. This all feels somewhat appropriate for a story told from a nineteen-year-old's perspective, though. Overall, it's an engaging book, and one that I'm glad to have found.
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I'll admit I originally choose this book based on the cover, but the story inside was equally as beautiful! I did find myself struggling with the writing style in the first part of the book, but by the second half, I found I was lost in the mountains of North Carolina with Harmony and the rest of "the family" and couldn't wait to see how the story ended. Such an eye-opening and beautifully written book. If you find yourself struggling with getting into the book, don't give up, it's worth sticking with it!

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
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I didn’t really connect with this book. The creep factor was pretty high (a big plus for many readers) but I just didn’t find the protagonist to be sympathetic enough to feel invested in the plot. 

It’s not you, it’s me.
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REVIEW

The Ash Family is a strong debut novel by Molly Dektar. Like many young people (and not so young people), Berie is searching for a place to belong. A chance meeting at a bus station in North Carolina takes her life away from the path to college on which she was bound to a cult-like community: the Ash Family farm. The timing of this book is contemporary, but it is evocative of cults from the past that likely have fascinated readers attracted to this title. 

PRAISE

"Lushly written, psychologically acute, Molly Dektar’s The Ash Family captures what it’s like to be nineteen in America now: idealistic, easy to prey on, at the mercy of forces greater than oneself. It’s a marvelous debut, riveting from start to finish."
— Joshua Henkin, author of The World Without You
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Three days or the rest of your life... 

"Come, my soul, and let us try, for a little season, every burden to lay by, come and let us reason." 

Berie wants none of it. At 19 years old, she doesn't want her life. Not her college. Not even her boyfriend or her mother. However, till she meets Bay at a bus station, she has no idea what life actually holds for her and if she even wants what it has to offer. Bay hands her a life unexpected but with one condition: three days or the rest of your life. 

"What if I stay longer than three days but want to leave after?" I said.

"Why would you want to leave, when you'll have more freedom here than anywhere else?" he said. 

But at what point does freedom become captivity and when you've pushed the world away, how does one escape?

And at what point does one no longer want to escape? 

- - - - - - - - - - - - 

The author shines a light in a unique way on what it's like to live within a cult, with a "family" in the mountains, where a leader uses love and fear to keep everyone together. It's told in a way that helps you to really see aspects of a life otherwise seemingly ludicrous. The idea behind this book is fantastic and one I would've loved to be pulled into. Molly Dektar did a PHENOMENAL job in her descriptions that painted incredible pictures all throughout the book. The details and descriptions were impressive. This author clearly did her research and it shows and these are the reasons I would give this book 4 stars. Surprisingly, I didn't actually read the whole book in full. I struggled quite a bit in reading this, skimming over many pages, and was actually so glad to be finished. It's the first book I've not liked reading yet gave it a higher rating. 

Maybe this book will be for you. Definitely give it a shot - it really is worth a try! The writing style wasn't for me but it definitely is for someone and I really am glad I read this novel. 

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC

The Ash Family: A Novel
Molly Dektar
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I am a psychology and sociology lover and I also love learning about cults and WHY people join cults. I really enjoyed The Ash Family. Of course, some of the plot points in the story were complete fiction but some parts seemed rather realistic. I would recommend The Ash Family to those that are interested in taking a deeper look at the how and why of cults and anybody looking for a good, solid read!
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