Member Reviews

A fascinating and shocking story rendered boring by the writing style. I hope to revisit this sometime when I have more patience.

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This memoir is written by the writer’s diary entries which recalls her childhood in the cult like Lyman family. She wasn’t raised by her mother, Bess but by other group members who homeschooled her and the other children. The leader, “Lord” Mel Lyman preached about the dangers of everyone outside heir community. He ruled over several communities with the knowledge of an impending apocalypse. On January 5, 1975 Lyman followers were instructed that the global population of “World People” would be extinguished and only their group would ascend in a spaceship to live on Venus. When the ship never materialized, Guinevere, was relocated to the East Coast with her excommunicated mother, who had abandoned the group altogether. Though Guinevere relished the camaraderie of cooking, farming, cleaning, and being a kid with the other Lyman children, she became aware of the depth of the Family’s deception. She continued writing in her journal.

The author contributes the life she lived in a cult and then into the world. Her writing is so reflective and vivid, I know I will not forget this biography. It is definitely worth reading.

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This was a hard book to read. The first part was a bit boring, to be honest Ms. Turners time in the family commune was pretty sad. Girls worked hard to please the men. There was no school, or doctors visits. The leader was long deceased but no one cared or changed. When her mom finally left the family with a fellow man to live in the real world, Guinevere was kicked out of the group since she was only 11 years old. The second part of the book picked up fast. She was living a life with a distant and abused mom, and younger siblings that were also abused by the mother’s boyfriend. Guinevere received the most brutal punishment from her step dad. It was horrific, disgusting and abusive. I’m hoping the author received some form of counseling from the trauma she endured. My only complaint was the ending. It left off suddenly for me. I wanted to know what happened to her siblings, and her mom? Was the step dad ever punished, or in jail? What did she study in college? Did she like college? So many unanswered questions. Otherwise it was a good and informative book on her childhood.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for my honest review.

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I didn't finish this book because it was very slow going and it felt like not a lot happened. I think if you're super into books about cults and redemption stories with a lot of childhood background you might like this book, but I couldn't get into it.

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When the World Didn't End
A Memoir
by Guinevere Turner
Pub Date 23 May 2023
Crown Publishing,Crown
Biographies & Memoirs

Crown Publishing and Netgalley have provided me with a copy of When the World Didn't End for review:

The world was supposed to end on January 5, 1975. In accordance with strict instructions, six-year-old Guinevere Turner put on her best dress, grabbed her favorite toy, and waited with her community for salvation-a spaceship that would transport them to Venus. However, the spaceship never arrived.

Guinevere was unaware that her family was a cult. Living on a compound in Kansas, she lived apart from her mother with dozens of other children who worked in the sorghum fields and roamed freely through the surrounding pastures, eating mulberries and tending to farm animals. This bucolic existence, however, had a dark side. Mel Lyman, a self-proclaimed savior committed to isolation from a world he declared had lost its way, led the Lyman Family, a secluded cult led by Ginevere. A few days later, Guinevere was traveling with the inner circle among Los Angeles, Boston, and Martha's Vineyard communities when she caught the attention of Jessie, the woman everyone in the Family called the Queen.

Before long, Guinevere's life came to an end. Guinevere and her four-year-old sister were forced to leave the Family with their mother, whom she had been separated from since age three. After traveling outside her enclosed life, Guinevere was thrust into public school for the first time, a stranger in a strange land wearing homemade clothes, and clueless about social codes. In the world she had been raised to believe was evil, she faced challenges and horrors she could not have imagined.

A memoir based on the diaries she kept throughout her childhood, Guinevere Turner tells the story of a childhood shaped by extraordinary beauty and unfathomable ugliness, as well as the ache of longing for a home that was lost—and the slow realization of its harmful nature.

Five stars for When the World Didn't End!

Happy Reading!

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When the World Didn’t End by Guinevere Turner was a heartbreaking yet hopeful memoir that I wasn’t able to put down. I want to applaud Guinevere for being honest and brave to recount the horrors she endured. The memoir was hard to read so only image how hard it was to live! This memoir will stick with me forever.

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This book was everything I expected and much much more. When our young character Guinevere is told to get ready for the space ship she does exactly that for her parents can't be wrong, can they? However, when the spaceship never arrives and she is told that she must repent and be deserving of saving that is when the family goes from just weird to very strange. While it's easy to read a book like this and think how could this person actually believe that an alien is going to come out of nowhere and beam her up into outer space for a new life however if that is what you have been told since birth from the people older than you who are supposed to know it makes sense how she got so wrapped up in the mayhem. This story talked about the dark side of her life and how she struggled growing up in a cult when everyone she's ever known is part of the problem. What I liked the most about this book was listening to her talk about these crazy situations and rules she was forced to obey and just know that any normal people would have listened to that and right away known it wasn't true however because that is how she was brought up it seemed very plausible to her. If really goes to show how powerful human relations can be, especially when it's a young child being told false information from those who are supposed to be smarter than her. I've always loved stories about cults and this one is no different I think it's just something about the way that one person or a group of people can be so convincing that they manage to warp someone's mind into something that anyone else would see through right away. This book talked all about cult like however it was told through the eyes of child who didn’t know any better. That was really interesting because it also let the reader see what was happening was wrong even if the author didn’t know it at the time. Great read and if you like books about cults with not too much dark abuse than this is the memoir for you because while there is mention of some it doesn’t take over the whole story. You get a twisted story line that isn’t super dark which was a nice change for me. This book was really sad as to be expected however it was still really fascinating to read and I feel that her story is definitely ones that needs to be shouted from the rooftops so this terrible thing never happens again. I’m very glad that she found the courage to tell her story and grow from her experiences. Great read and while I knew that it would be fascinating I never expected to become so involved. I couldn’t get enough of this one. This is one book that you won’t want to miss. Really good read and I'm glad I was given the opportunity to check it out.

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Until Guinevere was nine years old, the only life she knew, was inside the Lyman Family community. The Lyman Family was a “doomsday” cult. The world was supposed to end in January 1975. Of course, that didn’t happen. God wasn’t ready to pull the plug. Turner was a die-hard diarist, and she includes many of her own entries, to detail her life in the “Family”, in this absorbing memoir. She seems to have had a very pleasant childhood, despite being separated from her mother. The ugly part of her life began, once she was reunited with her mother, who had left the Lyman community. Unfortunately, she was married to a monster and Guinevere was abused for years.

I particularly enjoyed the first half of this book, dealing with the Lyman Family. The second half was more painful to read. It is still a well-written memoir and one I recommend.

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When The World Didn’t End is a memoir of what it’s like to grow up inside a cult. The cult, The Lyman Family Cult, also known as The Fort Hill Community, was one that I had never heard of before. The cult was started in 1966, by Mel Lyman in the Fort HIll section of Boston.

This was a fascinating read, particularly the parts that dealt directly with the ins and outs of the cult. The rules that they had to follow, like lists of movies that they could watch, basically seemed like just favorite moves of Mel Lyman.

She was in the community until age 11 when she was made to go live with her mother who had left the community. Told through her diary and other recollections, the memoir reads more like a novel. Entire dialogues, with detailed descriptions of what people were wearing, the expressions on their faces, and the tones of their voices.

I do wish that there had been more details about the specifics of the cult. More about Mel Lyman. Even so, it was an interesting read, but very dark, with lots of triggers, especially the second half after she leaves the community.

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An interesting look into the world of cults through a child's eyes. Unfortunately, there are so many similar stories out there now that When The World Didn't End does not particularly stand out.

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I have nothing but deep admiration for Guinevere Turner, the author of her memoir, When The World Didn’t End. Her early life was filled with such abuse and heartache, yet she persevered and grew stronger. Her writing about her life read like a fiction novel but unfortunately it is a true story. I was so happy to read about how she grew into a strong, successful and independent young women.

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Child abuse comes in many forms. It isn’t always overt or physical. Indeed, the more subtle kinds can have profound effects on childhood well-being as well as impede adjustment into adulthood. Turner’s memoir tracks her coming-of-age in two abusive environments, one overt and the other more subtle.

She spent her early childhood in a doomsday cult where her memoir takes its title. Mel Lyman taught his followers that the “world” had lost its way and would not be saved in the apocalypse. But the Lyman family would be delivered to safety on Venus. Of course, this did not happen. Yet delusional thinking seems seminal to understanding the cult and Turner’s upbringing.

Guinevere experienced emotional neglect from both the Turner Community and her biological family. Both environments were hierarchical and controlled by powerful adults. Her needs were ignored or invalidated overtly in her mother’s home, but more subtly in the commune where, despite being encouraged by Jessie, she was essentially still treated as the help. Jessie was a “queen”, and this meant everyone, including Guinevere, needed to bow to her whims. Guinevere saw this special relationship as empowering compared to her previous status working on the commune’s Kansas farm, yet it was just another form of adult control. In the final analysis, both environments taught her to question her worth and to hide her emotions.

Her mother’s significant other, FP, was particularly vile. His relationship with Guinevere was transactional and filled with gaslighting. He created a toxic environment where her worthiness was contingent on meeting his standards, including sexual favors. Moreover, she witnessed his constant demeaning and physical abuse of her sister and mother over minor mistakes and shortcomings. This engendered fear and anxiety. As she grew up, Guinevere came to understand that what was happening with FP was not normal and attempted several break aways. However, these were repeatedly thwarted by her mother out of fear for her own wellbeing and reprisals from FP.

By its very nature, the Turner cult isolated Guinevere. This became readily apparent when she left the commune and discovered that she had little knowledge of how things worked in the “world.” She proved to be socially clumsy at school and with her peers. Her friends were often amazed by her lack of sophistication. This engendered feelings of shame, identity confusion, and a distorted sense of self-worth.

Ultimately, Guinevere was forced to assume the parental role for her mother and sister. Such a situation can hinder emotional development, but in this instance, it seemed to have the opposite effect. When given the opportunity to return to the commune, Guinevere came to see its softer forms of abuse as shortcomings. In light of her newfound freedom, she elected to remain in the “world” and has achieved success there.

Turner was an inveterate diarist. This practice reflects the lack of control she felt in her environment. “(K)eeping a record of what was happening to me felt like the only power I had.” This gives her memoir a youthful perspective and a confessional feel emphasizing her strong sense of helplessness. However, close adherence to her childlike diaries also gives Turner’s narrative the feel that it is naïve and aimed primarily at an YA audience. This is unfortunate because it detracts from the seriousness of her themes.

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This was a tough book to read. After spending her early childhood in a cult, where she didn't even live with her mother, the author's family, which included her mother's boyfriend were kicked out when she was 11. Things got much worse for her when her mother's boyfriend started abusing her. But she was determined to get away from him and the toxic environment and she succeeded. It is hard to read about the abuse she suffered, but her story is inspiring. Thanks to NetGalley for the digital ARC.

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When the World Didn't End by Guinevere Turner, truthfully not what I expected. Such an emotional read. A very open account of her upbringing and abuse. It is heartbreaking and so many times throughout, frustrating, to read what she endured. Such a testament, what a survivor! Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary e-galley.

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An interesting look at a childhood lived in the Lyman family cult, a group Turner's mother removed her from but which still looms large in her life. Comprising her journal entries and more traditional memoir, it's a story that is both unusual and striking because it is largely from the perspective of a child, Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. A good read.

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Maybe I needed to adjust my expectations going in. I find nonfiction books about being in a cult both fascinating and claustrophobic. This one felt a little less so. I got the impression that there was really nothing urgent about the story needing to be told. While it was well written, it felt a bit like a chore following the life of a child through journal entries and daily to-dos. I'm not sure how much outside of the entries the author remembers for fact (dialogue, etc.) Maybe it just wasn't for me. It is, however, for people who are interested in the day-to-day activities of 'religious' cults and their effect on its members.

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"There have been points in my life when keeping a record of what was happening to me felt like the only power I had," writes Turner in the author's note (loc. 95*). Raised in the Lyman Family, her childhood was in some ways idyllic: living with a pack of other children as playmates, making games out of chores, hours outside on the Farm. Singing and fishing and learning to play the banjo.

But also: no medical care. Doomsday prophecies. Almost no contact with "the World". Young girls chosen by adult men as "brides". Everyday life—the big things and the small—dictated by the whims of a few elite at the top. And then Turner's mother left the Lyman Family (not to be confused with the Family International), and Turner was thrust out into the World with her.

"When the World Didn't End" takes Turner up through her late teenage years, at which point she'd barely started to process her experience in the Lyman Family "commune"—barely started to process the knowledge that it hadn't been all idyll. Cults are so often something to escape, but for Turner, her upbringing represented a safer place than the World she found herself part of after leaving the Family. Turner holds close to the story as she lived it, choosing to bring in very little of her adult understanding, but I can only imagine that it took further years and years of processing to understand and frame her experience. It's a gripping story, and a sad one (what kind of person tells a child who basically deifies them that they no longer love that child?).

I quoted the author's note above, but it's interesting to note that although keeping a record was a source of power for Turner, those records and diaries were never private, nor expected to be. I'm speculating here, but I wonder whether there's any connection between that experience and her later work as an actress and screenwriter—a sense that any word or facial expression or movement would on some level be judged as a performance.

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing a review copy through NetGalley.

*I read an ARC, and quotes may not be final.

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Guinevere Turner's memoir about her childhood split between growing up in the Lyman Family cult and later an abusive household with her mother, step-father, and siblings was a harrowing read, but an interesting one. Using her diaries as scaffolding, she writes from the perspective of her child-self and how she felt about what was happening to her at the time. Though I maybe would have liked a little more adult-self perspective near the end, I also understand that writing it this way makes it all the more clear what it's like to be in these situations, how your perspective gets warped by what the adults in your life are telling you. It's also wild how she was actually somewhat safer within a cult than she was living with her mother/step-father, though of course, living with the Family had its own share of problems. I'd be interested to read another memoir from Turner about how she navigated life after getting free from these terrible situations.

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𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒂𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒗𝒊𝒐𝒍𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒊𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒊𝒕’𝒔 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒔𝒐𝒎𝒆𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒃𝒆 𝒉𝒂𝒑𝒑𝒆𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒆𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒚 𝒔𝒆𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒅. 𝑳𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒔 𝒉𝒂𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒆 𝒍𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒅. 𝑯𝒐𝒖𝒔𝒆𝒔 𝒐𝒇 𝒄𝒂𝒓𝒅𝒔 𝒉𝒂𝒗𝒆 𝒕𝒐 𝒃𝒆 𝒓𝒆𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒔𝒕𝒓𝒖𝒄𝒕𝒆𝒅. 𝑰 𝒊𝒎𝒂𝒈𝒊𝒏𝒆 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒚 𝒃𝒐𝒕𝒉 𝒕𝒐𝒍𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒎𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒗𝒆𝒔 𝒍𝒊𝒆𝒔 𝒕𝒐 𝒈𝒆𝒕 𝒖𝒑 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒏𝒆𝒙𝒕 𝒎𝒐𝒓𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈. 𝑰 𝒊𝒎𝒂𝒈𝒊𝒏𝒆 𝑰 𝒕𝒐𝒍𝒅 𝒎𝒚𝒔𝒆𝒍𝒇 𝒂 𝒇𝒆𝒘 𝒂𝒔 𝒘𝒆𝒍𝒍.

The above excerpt is an incredibly insightful explanation of abuse. I think many victims that stay in such situations do so because although one day can be a horror show, there are normal times in-between. The lull is a deception, of course, but it is in these moments people excuse what they’ve endured, for that fleeting taste of the calm days. The memoir begins in 1975 with Guinevere Turner waiting for the World People to be wiped off the earth, except for the adults and children of her community, led by Melvin Lyman. These chosen few were going to be saved by a spaceship where they would abscond to Venus, the planet of love. What six-year-old wouldn’t believe such a magical fantasy? What child wouldn’t be excited? As we all sit here on planet Earth, it’s obvious the ship never came but that only meant the date would be reset, it was still going to happen, back to the compound and new rules. Rules such as what movies, tv shows, events were on the “Lord’s List”, according to Melvin. Not everyone lived in Los Angeles, there were separate places in the Community in Boston, New York, San Francisco, Martha’s Vineyard and the farm in Kansas, where Guinevere lived under hardships, chores including working the sorghum fields, tending to animals and where children were shamed for being one’s own person. There was a hierarchy, and she was just one of the ‘rough and tumble’ farm kids. Shunning was common, and the children didn’t live with their biological parents, though many of the kids were all related in some way. The farm was Jessie’s, the Queen everyone clamors to please. For me, it was one of the saddest truths, that Guinevere hardly knew her mother beyond random phone calls. As luck would have it, she rises in status, joins the caravan and lives in Jessie’s House but acceptance comes at a price and there is always someone above her, treating Guinevere like ‘the help’.

The shocking, heartbreaking incidents of the story take place beyond the confines of the community. The true terror is in the terrible reality that waited for her when her mother chose to leave, disgraced. Growing up in the cult may have taught Guinevere to bury her emotions, how to placate self-important adults, and how to shrink so small that life held no room for privacy, for boundaries but it is all put into practice under her mother’s roof. Handing your parental power over to communal care has its consequences, her loyalty remained with Jessie, longing to return to the only world she knew, the safe one away from the rotten, evil World People. How could her own mother, a stranger, evoke any love within her heart? Over time, she learns the hard way that maybe the Lyman Family was wrong about the rest of the world but the home her mother creates is far more dangerous than any cult. Guinevere resents her for leaving in shame with a man named FP. Guinevere keenly perceives FP as a person that “left his paw print on everything, thought he deserved everything.” Her mother defers to him, he is a tyrant, living with him becomes a crushing weight full of ugly secrets. How is she supposed to embrace this new role when even her younger, half-sister Annalee is a stranger to her. School isn’t any better, she doesn’t understand the social rules, having only gone to public school once when she was a part of the Lyman Family. It was an insulated life growing up in the communities, all the better to keep control, therefore it is no wonder Guinevere had no experience with how the outside world operated. She truly is thrown into an alien planet when she attends school and is around other children. There is no escape from the abuses that await her at home, Annalee doesn’t have it any easier, in fact, FP “hated the very sight of her.” It seems they are both stuck, but will it be forever? Her life takes a dark turn, if only a spaceship could come and save her, but it will take her own inner strength, fight, and courage to change the course of her life.

It astounds me that anyone joins a cult, maybe I am more of a loner, but I couldn’t willingly, blindly hand over control of my life that way and certainly never turn away from my children nor allow anyone to parent them while I still walk this earth. It’s not a place of self-righteousness, I honestly cannot stomach child abuse. Her mother doesn’t just bury her head, she victim blames and there is no excuse- none. Dysfunctional family doesn’t even begin to describe what happens, it is vile, it is cruelty. Why do such people freely walk this earth, I will never know! I hope that her memoir is a release from the painful past that was forced on her, it takes bravery to confront dark memories. It’s important light is shined on cults too, especially from a child’s perspective, those who have no voice in their own lives, led by the so-called adults. Yes, read it!

Publication Date: May 23, 2023

Crown Publishing

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I was fascinated to read this book and how the cult operated, The story of what Guinevere lived through was heartbreaking. The first half of the book was extremely well described and I felt I was living in the pages, then it went flat for me. The second half was far less descriptive and I felt very lost in the moments that were happening. I was utterly confused by the diary entry dates and had to reach out for clarification. After explanation I understood the process behind it but keeping it in world time would have made more sense.

I felt like I was left on the merge with the ending, I would have liked to see a more final ending and how things turned out.

Overall its a good book, I'm sad the author had to endure the childhood she was forced into. I hope in the end her mother made piece with her part in how her kids were raised.

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