Member Reviews

Special thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a free, electronic ARC of this novel received in exchange for an honest review.
Expected publication date: May 23, 2023
Guinevere Turner is a screenwriter, director and actress. Like many in her field, Turner decided to release her life story into the world, turning her trauma into a beautifully written, albeit tragic, memoir. “When the World Didn’t End” details Turner’s story growing up in the Lyman Community (a.k.a “cult”) and the tumultuous adolescence she experienced after leaving. Full of heartbreak and devastation, “End” is written in Turner’s words, however she uses journals and diaries from her childhood to tell the story from a child’s viewpoint, with all of its unwavering trust and naiveté.
In 1975, Turner was five years old, gathered with the others of her community, in her best dress, waiting for the Spaceship to come and take her “family” to live on Venus. When this didn’t happen, Turner continued to live among the members, completely unaware that she was residing in a cult. She had a biological mother, but every woman in the commune was a maternal figure, and Turner was raised by all of them, as were all of the children in the commune. The leader was a charismatic man named Melvin and his partner, Jessie, was the “Queen”, both worshipped by their willing followers. When Turner’s biological mother left the community, Turner was forced to leave with her and what followed was years and years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of FP, her stepfather. Despite its negative reputation to the world at large, Turner missed her commune family desperately and spent years of her life wanting to return to the safety and security she felt within its walls. After a dysfunctional and unstable childhood and adolescence, Turner finally manages to live life for herself and makes her own decisions, which leads her to become the formidable and admirable woman she is today.
Every single page of this novel is heartbreaking and emotional. Turner tells the story in her adult words, but from her childhood perspective, which is intriguing and has the desired effect of pulling the reader right in. Interspersed with actual journal entries from Turner’s life, on the commune and off, it is sometimes difficult to believe that every word within the pages is actual, real and legitimate. Turner’s childhood is a tragic one, in so many ways, but her bravery and resilience should be admired and the honesty with which she tells her tale is impressive.
I didn’t know about the Lyman community, but its impact on Turner’s life is long-lasting, and I was grateful she chose to share information on what was to her, her childhood home and the people it housed. The story could’ve ended any number of tragic ways, and I’m so grateful that Turner was able to regain control over her own life and leave her in a position to tell such a life-altering tale. “End” is not an easy read, and be warned- there are depictions of childhood abuse (of all kinds), domestic violence and incest, but it is still a must-read for anyone who desires to know about Cult Life, from someone who experienced it firsthand.

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A memoir about growing up in a bizarre cult, one I've never even heard of, despite devouring countless podcasts and documentaries devoted to the subject? Sign me up!

Turner's story is fascinating, infuriating and heartbreaking, often on the same page. It sent me into a deep dive on the Lyman Family, much of which is beyond the scope of this book. My one critique is that I wasn't as compelled by the young Guinevere's journal entries as I was by her "looking back" perspective.

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When I was little, I was patiently waiting for my turn on the monkey bars, while the kid in this memoir was waiting for a spaceship to take her to Venus. Seriously! And this wasn’t something her active kid imagination just thought up, this was something the adults told her was happening! Pack your bags, they told her. Wow! What’s the weather on Venus, anyway? Should you bring shorts or long pants? Will you need a toothbrush? Do teeth matter up there? I mean, does Venus even have dentists? Hm.. Good luck trying to find a guidebook!

So that’s how this book opens! A promised trip to another planet! (They had to beat feet off our Earth because they were sure the world was ending.) Writers are told to start a book with a hook, and it was one giant hook we had here. I was reeled right in.

Guinevere was raised in the Lyman Family cult, a famous group from the 1970s. I realized I was salivating for the scoop on the cult (a word the author never uses, which I find fascinating), but the book starts out sort of slow, after the Venus trip plans petered out. There are too many names, too many relationships. There aren’t a lot of people that we really need to keep track of, so it seemed unnecessary to include so many.

Also, at first the voice bothered me. It’s raw reporting, sort of like the author just wanted to spit out the facts and she had no time to attach any emotion to them; she seemed stoic. Maybe she hadn’t settled down yet. (The author is a seasoned screenwriter, so it might have been new-memoir jitters.)

But in no time, and I mean no time (maybe 30 or so pages in?), I was completely into the style, and I didn’t think she was stoic at all. Without melodrama, she calmly tells the fascinating story of her life from age 7 through teen-hood. Super well-told, flawless writing. I couldn’t put the book down.

The first part of the book is pretty tame and just gives you a sense of what it would be like as a kid to live in a cult. I kept thinking I wanted more info on the cult, but I don’t even know what that would look like. It just seemed like I was learning about the author’s life but somehow wasn’t getting the big picture. This was probably intentional, since the author wanted to show that she was just a kid in an unusual living situation—she didn’t want to sensationalize the cult or divert your attention from her own experiences.

She writes her story from a kid’s point of view, and that works perfectly. She recounts such interesting stories of both little and big events in her life in the cult; they sound like real things a kid would remember, and they’re intense. Even though her life was different from most other kids’ lives in the world, she still did kid-like things.

She kept a diary and she included entries from it sometimes, which made her story seem even more vivid and heartfelt. Expect stories of lost fingers, a Ouija board, a chicken slaughtering, and a mouse—those are some of the tales that stick in my mind. Her complicated relationship with her mother (who didn’t raise her in her early years) and her conflict and confusion over her life in a cult are also things I’ll remember. It’s one of those memoirs that will stick with me.

There’s a big shift in tone at about the halfway mark—things get very intense and Turner’s life changes dramatically. I won’t say much, other than to tell you that there’s sexual, physical, and psychological abuse, so be prepared. You’ll want to avoid this book if these are triggers for you. It was a shock to see her life change so suddenly. You’re right there with her as she tries to escape horrible situations. She’s brave and smart, and she tells you what she’s thinking. Man, I wish I could meet her in a coffee shop and hear more of her stories!

This book got me hopping on my pogo stick, boing boing boing! It now joins the ranks of my other favorite memoirs.

If you love a good memoir or have an interest in cults, check this one out. Oh, and avoid the marketing blurb if you can, as it says too much, as usual. I went into it blind and I’m glad I did.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.

Publication Date: May 23, 2023

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This is an autobiography and memoir of the author’s. Guin was raised for the first eleven year of her life in the Lyman Family. Her father was unknown and her mother did not live with her although she too was part of the Family. I found much of the story to be sad. Guin was sexualized as a child and the Family was cult like. Her mother had four children by three different men, the last one abusive to her and the children. He also molested Guin for approximately five years. I could go into detail about my rationale but won’t because it is well written and readers will become emotionally involved. Thanks to Net Galley and Crown (Random House) for an ARC for an honest review.

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When I began reading this book, I thought I was reading a novel about a little girl growing up in a cult/commune type arrangement. I had to recheck the blurb to realize that this was very much her memoir and a true story of her time with the Lyman Family. ( The early part of the story is interesting and you get a good feel for what life was like growing up in this close-knit community that little contact with "world people" (as Turner and her compatriots call everyone else) and the almost crushing level of daily chores she and the other children were responsible for. The group lived in several cities across the country and would migrate from one to the next according to the whims of the elders, at various points taking Turner along.

But then the story turns notably darker, when her birth mother gets involved in an abusive relationship and leaves the family to live on their won. This second part of her memoir is hard to read, because she is subject to abuse by the boyfriend for several years. Eventually, she wins her independence and goes on to have a successful academic career, becoming a screenwriter and actress. Her struggles are all the more poignant and powerful.

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Powerful, heartbreaking, and sincere-Guinevere’s story of survival and overcoming long odds is captivating. Her novel shows how growing up in a high-control cult led to years of abuse in the same type of abusive dynamic that her mother chose. I would strongly warn against reading this if SA is a trigger for you. However, it’s important to hear stories like this from the people who experienced it. I would love to know more about her college experiences and how that shaped her perspective of her childhood. My heart breaks for what she experienced, and I hope she has found peace now.

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I loved the first half of this - and then hit some of my triggers! (sexual abuse of young girls 😬). When I read the prologue, I felt like it was such a smart choice of the author to write the memoir as she lived it - from the vantage point of a young girl with no input from her adult self. After reading it, I wanted to know what she had learned about the Lyman Family since then! What does she look back on and see differently?? Over all so well written and interesting but the abuse was hard to read.

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I had mixed feelings about this book. I picked it up and down a lot. It was compelling but I felt like I was sort of plopped down in the middle of her life without any context. It started with basically a play-by-play of her everyday life as a child which was fine (although I can't imagine she actually remembers some of this dialogue) but it just kept going. I wish there was more about what the cult was, its history and why they were there. It was hard to follow what was going on, truthfully because while everyone was named, I couldn't keep straight who these people were, why they did that they did or what was going on in the larger world. She'd talk about how they'd learn the history of the leader but not share the history. I kept reading and reading but I never really felt like I had a good grasp on what was going on. She was just a young child for most of the book so she wouldn't have had the context then but surely she has it now and could share it with us?

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When the World Didn’t End is a great story told in a good book. I felt that Guinevere Turner had a great life story but I felt the book as a whole was kind of a slog and felt like other memoirs or books about cults that I had read.

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Guinevere Turner is an excellent screenwriter and her empathetic approach to writing about the young women who were entangled with Charles Manson made me especially curious about how she would write a memoir. Turner's situation with the world of the cult and the shock of being in the outside world is very interesting; her essay about this contrast for The New Yorker in May 2019 is excellent.

However, the book-length format may offer too much space for Turner's story. Her rendering of her childhood in the cult is very detailed--so detailed she spends pages on dead mouse that has no bigger meaning to her life or her story. Too of much of the writing dips into "I'm telling you this in minute detail because it happened to me" rather than "this detail means something to me, to my story and you need to know it to better understand this situation." Or, another way to put it, the memoir reads like it was written by someone with very little writing experience rather than someone with her sophistication. There is nothing that makes Turner's memoir bigger than herself, unlike much more successful memoirs like Mary Karr's The Liars Club or Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle or Cheryl Strayed's Wild.

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Guinevere Turner is known mostly for her involvement with visual media. In this memoir, she revisits her childhood as a member of a cult worshiping a man who, for all intents and purposes, is probably no longer living. She is born into this cult, and has many loving connections with the members.

At one point, she is sent to live with her biological mother and the mother's abusive, violent boyfriend. She lives with them for many years, being subjected to neglect, abuse (physical and sexual) and mental terrorism, mainly by the boyfriend.

The mother is portrayed as ineffectual and unable to protect her children (she has more children with the same abusive man after Guinevere goes to live with them).

The story is frightening on many levels and it seems a miracle she survived to tell the tale without succumbing to substance abuse or suicide (she infers an eating disorder, which is never explored).

This is a story of growing up when the adults around are careless and so damaged they can only inflict damage on others, and the cycle perpetuates. Not to diminish Guinevere's own story, this is a story of so many households that protect abusers by denying the abuse, and discounting the painful truth when it's told.

We need more advocates for children who "don't seem right" and persist beyond parents who minimize conflict in the home.

I would love to read a sequel- how the author managed to make a viable life for herself in her LA community.

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This book is amazing. It’s a very sad story in itself but it has a happy ending. I had a difficult time reading some parts of it but it was a good story.

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