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Summary and book reviews of Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

Hollywood Park

by Mikel Jollett

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett X
Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
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  • Published:
    May 2020, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Catherine M Andronik
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About this Book

Book Summary

Hollywood Park is a remarkable memoir of a tumultuous life. Mikel Jollett was born into one of the country's most infamous cults, and subjected to a childhood filled with poverty, addiction, and emotional abuse. Yet, ultimately, his is a story of fierce love and family loyalty told in a raw, poetic voice that signals the emergence of a uniquely gifted writer.

We were never young. We were just too afraid of ourselves. No one told us who we were or what we were or where all our parents went. They would arrive like ghosts, visiting us for a morning, an afternoon. They would sit with us or walk around the grounds, to laugh or cry or toss us in the air while we screamed. Then they'd disappear again, for weeks, for months, for years, leaving us alone with our memories and dreams, our questions and confusion.

So begins Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett's remarkable memoir. His story opens in an experimental commune in California, which later morphed into the Church of Synanon, one of the country's most infamous and dangerous cults. Per the leader's mandate, all children, including Jollett and his older brother, were separated from their parents when they were six months old, and handed over to the cult's "School." After spending years in what was essentially an orphanage, Mikel escaped the cult one morning with his mother and older brother. But in many ways, life outside Synanon was even harder and more erratic.

In his raw, poetic and powerful voice, Jollett portrays a childhood filled with abject poverty, trauma, emotional abuse, delinquency and the lure of drugs and alcohol. Raised by a clinically depressed mother, tormented by his angry older brother, subjected to the unpredictability of troubled step-fathers and longing for contact with his father, a former heroin addict and ex-con, Jollett slowly, often painfully, builds a life that leads him to Stanford University and, eventually, to finding his voice as a writer and musician.

Hollywood Park is told at first through the limited perspective of a child, and then broadens as Jollett begins to understand the world around him. Although Mikel Jollett's story is filled with heartbreak, it is ultimately an unforgettable portrayal of love at its fiercest and most loyal.

Chapter 1
Ancient Cities
To the East

We were never young. We were just too afraid of ourselves. No one told us who we were or what we were or where all our parents went. They would arrive like ghosts, visiting us for a morning, an afternoon. They would sit with us or walk around the grounds, to laugh or cry or toss us in the air while we screamed. Then they'd disappear again, for weeks, for months, for years, leaving us alone with our memories and dreams, our questions and confusion, the wide-open places where we were free to run like wild horses in the night.

It happened all at once, my brother and I sitting naked in the bath, playing with our toy boats, listening to the music and the sound of muffled voices from the next room. We are swaddled in red and green wool blankets and readied for sleep: story time, pajamas, the rubbing of tired eyes. Goodnight canyon. Goodnight mountain. Goodnight building. Goodnight stars. Crayons are put away, cubbies cleaned, teeth brushed. I drift to ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Jollett's abilities as a narrative songwriter serve him well in the storytelling techniques he employs in this engrossing memoir. The first chapters cover Jollett's escape from Synanon with his brother and their mother Gerry in the dead of night with the help of her parents. He narrates as his four-year-old self, complete with stream-of-consciousness misinterpretations, misspellings and made-up words straight out of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Hollywood Park will give readers insight into Jollett's fascinating childhood and the influences that made him the unique artist he is today...continued

Full Review Members Only (456 words).

(Reviewed by Catherine M Andronik).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Jollett has an innate sensitivity and eye for detail...[his] strategy of writing about his life from the perspective of the child experiencing it has its flaws in the early going...But you never doubt that Jollett knows what he’s doing, which is to inhabit the brokenness of a child who lacked a normal upbringing.

NPR
It's all a bit overheated...and too reliant on binaries with a whiff of adolescence. Those issues aside, Hollywood Park succeeds most in compassionately depicting the suffering and struggle of others with addiction: those left to obscurity; those barely holding on. Jollett's life story shows that you can pass through the gauntlet of pain and trauma to self-reliance and sustainable meaning. But most importantly, it shows that whether suffering is redemptive or pointless, the pain is the constant. Overcoming it is managing it.

Good Morning America, 20 Books We're Excited for in 2020
[A] story of fierce love and family loyalty. This moving and profound memoir is for anyone who loves a good redemption story.

O, The Oprah Magazine
The frontman of rock band Airborne Toxic Event chronicles, in gorgeous and exacting lyricism, his harrowing coming-of-age within (and eventual escape from) the Church of Synanon, a violent religious cult.

Booklist
Engaging and heartbreaking. A good choice for fans of memoirs about overcoming dysfunctional childhoods like Educated and The Glass Castle.

Kirkus Reviews
For the first third of the book, the author attempts to portray the world, and the English language, as he perceived it at age 5 and 6....[T]he teenage portion of the book, during which he often lived with his father in Los Angeles, is a smoother read. Ultimately, as he lucidly shows, music would change his life. A musician proves himself a talented, if long-winded, writer with a very good memory.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this arresting debut memoir, Jollett, frontman of the indie band Airborne Toxic Event, writes of escaping a California cult...a shocking but contemplative memoir about the aftermath of an unhealthy upbringing.

Library Journal (starred review)
Jollett is at his best when exploring his complicated relationship with his brother; drifting apart as children and forming a stronger bond as adults, especially after the author becomes the first person in his family to attend college...Jollett's absorbing memoir of self, discovery, and rediscovery will have a wide audience.

Author Blurb Janelle Brown, New York Times bestselling author of Watch Me Disappear and Pretty Things
Violent and tender and incandescent, Hollywood Park is as touching as it is shocking. Jollett deftly dissects his struggle to unburden himself of the damage he inherited from his broken family, with insights that are brutally honest and psychologically astute. It tore me apart.

Author Blurb Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil
Hollywood Park is amazing. Mikel Jollett takes the shards of a broken childhood – imagine a life where escaping from a violent cult is somehow not a path to safety – and makes it a universal story of the struggle to find connection in a brutally beautiful world. His story zigs where you think it's going to zag, and even the most irredeemable characters somehow surprise us with their tenacity. It's a complicated story with a simple payoff: this is how the light gets in, this is how an artist gets made.

Author Blurb Darin Strauss, NBCC-winning author of Half a Life
Hollywood Park is the often heartbreaking, always honest story of a confused boy struggling to make sense of a crazy world. It's filled with pain, poverty, and violence but also with surprising love, rock and roll, and unexpected triumphs.

Reader Reviews

Lani

Pulls at your heartstrings
Prior to reading this, I knew nothing about the author, nor his place in history as the frontman of the band Airborn Toxic. In fact, as I immersed myself in the book, I had to remind myself that these events really happened to someone, sometimes ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Syanon: Rehabilitation Center Turned Cult

Syanon movie posterMikel Jollett and his older brother Tony were just two of the hundreds of children that grew up in the bizarre environs of Synanon, an infamous California cult in the 1970s.

Synanon began in Santa Monica in 1958, the brainchild of Charles (Chuck) Dederich, a recovering alcoholic seeking to extend the Alcoholics Anonymous program that had helped him to those addicted to other drugs beyond alcohol. At first, residents and visitors alike, especially from the nearby film and music industries, reported success: an engaging and positive atmosphere in which former drug addicts earned acceptance while learning social skills that would help them function, clean and sober, in the outside world. Since it was so close to Hollywood, speakers at the ...

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