The Ash Family by Molly Dektar follows Beryl (Berie), on her way to college but questioning her entire existence in this life. It's at the bus station on her way to school that she meets Bay. Bay offers her another way of life and Berie, desperately searching for deeper meaning goes with him. She ends up on a farm with the Ash Family. The family farm is completely self-sustainable, a commune where everyone is equal and there are no possessions.
Once at the farm, Berie (now known as Harmony) meets Dice, the father of the group. Harmony finds herself enraptured with him, taking all of his rantings as gospel. There is no self, everyone works together to cultivate food, harvest the land and all none of the amenities from the fake-world are allowed here. Between singing in the mountains and swimming in the creek Harmony feels like she's finally living a complete life and making a difference in this world.
Slowly though, her brothers and sisters begin disappearing. Family members get sick and never return. Others "escape". Despite some of Harmony's unease deep down, she is devoted to Dice and Bay and eager to take on responsibilities to please them. But just how far is Harmony willing to go to prove herself to Dice and remain part of her new family?
I really really liked this one. I've been obsessed with cults as long as I can remember. Not in a creepy "I want to join one" kind of way. But I've always been fascinated with the psychology of how that manipulation occurs. I've read and watched so many different things on Jonestown, Scientology, the Branch Davidians, you name it! (Going Clear on HBO is a fav doc PS). Every time I watch a special, it seems like the draw always comes from a similar place. People that are desperately searching for something whether it be the meaning of life, a community or just somewhere to belong. And thats how we find Harmony. This isn't a twisty cult thriller nor is it deeply dark and sinister so if you're hoping for that, you won't find it here.
The Ash Family is slow and poetic with an underlying building tension that is subtle but powerful. You get to see the dichotomy of how both Bay and Dice offer love and then punishment, acceptance and then disappointment to mold Harmony into the sheep they need her to be. This novel is truly a character study that provides deep understanding of just how powerful manipulation and brain-washing can be and I absolutely enjoyed it! (Note: Audiobook fans - this one is fantastic to listen to!)
Thanks to Simon Books for sending me a copy in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own!