The Ash Family

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 09 Apr 2019

Member Reviews

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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Thank you for the early copy.

I recommend checking it out if you like adult fiction with a interesting plot. I'll be checking out more from this author in the future.
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The Ash Family is a book about doing what you THINK will make you happy. Berie, a young college bound woman, who seems to be quite introverted and doesn’t think that she fits in, leaves for college but never gets there.  On the way she meets a man who tells her everything she wants to hear and surprisingly she goes with him to meet "The Family".
Berie arrives at a commune, where "the family" greets her with open arms. She at first loves her life in 'The Family" but eventually finds herself more lost than she was before.Good read! 
I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
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I was so excited to be able to read this book.  I wanted to read it for two main reason; first it takes place near Asheville, North Carolina and that is the area of the country I reside. Second, because I am obsessed with cults and the description of this novel led me to believe I would be reading about a cult.
Berie, a young woman, who never quite felt like she fit in, leaves for college but never ends up there.  She instead meets a man who tells her everything she has wanted to hear and she goes with him to meet "The Family".
Berie arrives at an off the grid commune, where "the family" greets her with open arms. Berie gets swept up in the life of 'The Family" and finds herself more lost than she was before.
Good read!
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I couldn’t get into this book. I tried several different times. 
I couldn’t connect to the girl and I was getting lost between the Ash boy and Issac. 

I felt like this was going to be an awesome read and quite the story but I just couldn’t. Maybe when it comes out, I’ll give it another go.
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I love a good cult story, and The Ash Family certainly didn't disappoint.  So much of this book is done right-I loved that it took place in the North Carolina mountains (where I have spent a lot of time and am 100% sure that communes such as The Ash Family occur all throughout that area (though, hopefully not quite so sinister)).  I loved that it took place in more modern times, and not in the 1960's (giving it some separation from other successful books, like The Girls).  And, without giving anything away, I loved the ending.  I did find the first half of this book to move much slower than the second, so if you are having trouble getting into this book, just give it time...  It is worth it, I promise.

I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.
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My girl, my girl, don't lie to me
Tell me where did you sleep last night
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don't ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through

My girl, my girl, where will you go
I'm going where the cold wind blows
In the pines, in the pines
Where the sun don't ever shine
I would shiver the whole night through - American Folk Song (Leadbelly version)

This book was intriguing, a curiosity. It tells of a young woman's introspection and confusion as she leaves her life behind and joins a different kind of "family" - a commune, a cult. As her mind absorbs her new environment and she tries so hard to fit in, her inner self continues to question and to desire things she's no longer supposed to want. Her brainwashing is almost total, with "almost" being the key word. She has both feet planted in her new world (the "real world" as her new family calls it), but is still dangling her toes in the waters of her former life. 

With lyrical details and a darkness blanketing the story (no spoilers, but I couldn't help but wonder throughout the book how this could possibly end well), the writing kept me engrossed until the end. I wanted more at the end, but I think it wouldn't have served the story well if I had gotten what I wanted. And now I sound like one of the "family." Eek.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for an ARC in exchange for my honest review. 4 stars
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Oh I just love cult stories. They don’t even have to be overtly sinister cults, the ones camouflaged as back to nature communes, like the Ash Family, will do also.  And so I was really interested in this book and quite enjoyed it, albeit conditionally, enjoinment mixed in with frustration at the naïve idiocy of the protagonist. Then again, naïve idiocy is usually something of a prerequisite for these things, mixed in with misguided well intentions and misplaced optimism. Qualities as inmate to cult members as they are to 19 year olds. Youth being wasted on the young and all that is very much the case here, when Berie, the main character, decided to go and live what is in her words an essential life. There is nothing particularly wrong with her life as is, she has a devoted mother who has slaved away and made great sacrifices so that Berie can attend college, but alas the wilderness calls and Berie follows to a remote mountain off the grid commune with a questionably charismatic leader and insane privation disciplines and a vague militant ambition. So the thing with these sorts of stories is that one must sort of compartmentalize aspects of it, you can’t just get into it if you think it’s a personal journey of a stupid young girl and, frankly, their lifestyle is too brutal and unpleasant to have even the initial/recruitment appeal, so it’s all very difficult to intellectually understand or engage with. Berie’s attitude is one of sheer stubbornness turned desperation galvanized fortitude, she’s convinced herself this is the place for her so she stays, which eventually warps her mind into a sort of grave acceptance. Her character doesn’t really have an arc, it seems, even after all that occurs and all she does, Berie still doesn’t seem to get any sort of mental lucidity and it’s probably logical too…why would a mentally disconcerted person get any saner after two years of psychological and physical abuse. She’s someone you might pity, but not like or love. Her journey, though, is certainly a more compelling aspect of the story. At least for those fascinated with cults and psychology of it all. Ash Family is a very 70s throwback, they aren’t mere peace loving agrarians, they are political, they do actions. And, of course, no one ever views themselves as low level criminals or lunatics that they are. It’s such a strange thing, the shared immersive delusion that never lasts and never pans out and attracts a very specific mentality. So yes, all that is there. And the writing is very good, particularly for a debut, terrific nature descriptions, oftentimes outshining the character drama. I’d say this was a good read, with demonstrated potential for greatness, albeit a somewhat frustrating one, mainly due to its denouement, which, although appropriately fiery and working oh so well with the title, was as satisfying action wise as it was underwhelming as far as where we leave off with the main protagonist. Makes you think about whether Berie will ever get her sh*t together or is she traumatized beyond having a normal life. Normally I enjoy characters that don’t belong in the real world as it were, but her solution for it was just too…well, cultish. But, if this rambling review is trying to say something, it isn’t just that agrarian utopia cults aren’t sustainable or that 19 year old are idiots, it’s that this was an interesting book worth reading with something of a poetic language and stunning imagery. Thanks Netgalley.
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A young girl on her way to college meets  what she considers to be a magnetic man. He convinces her to come with him to a commune. He gives her the impression she is on her way to Utopia.   I found this book rather unbelievable and disappointing. The whole concept of the farm where it took place seemed somewhat unrealistic.  I would've like to know more about this girl before she took off with this unsavory man. Much of this book was lacking in character development. No I would not recommend this book.
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"Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught a landslide no escape from reality. Open your eyes, look up to the sky and see......anyway the wind blows."

Berie, a seeking/searching 19 year old, decides instead of getting on the plane heading to college, to join an off the grid community with a charismatic father figure. 
She wants to live a "real" life close to nature, to be recognized and be loved. But as in the Queen Bohemian Rhapsody quote above, is this real or fantasy? And at what cost? 
I find cult literature interesting, a quest to understand how an individual can choose to leave all they love and are, only to lose themselves. Molly Dektar has a lovely grasp of the English language, some descriptions almost lyrical. I look forward to her next publication.

Thank you to publisher Simon Shuster and Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for my honest review.
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The Ash Family by author Molly Dektar is a book about doing what makes you happy. What you THINK would make you happy. Full of ambition, the main character quickly finds out that things are not always as they seem. A great book with a great plot!
Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for an arc copy of The Ash Family in exchange for an honest review.
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