ARC Review Book Review

ARC Book Review | Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

Title: Hollywood Park
Author: Mikel Jollett
Genre: Memoir
Published On: May 26, 2020
Publisher: Celadon Books
Source: physical copy
Pages: 384


Hollywood Park is a triumph.” ~O, The Oprah Magazine

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.

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

My thoughts

(Spoiler free!)

When a copy of Hollywood Park showed up in my mailbox, I’d never heard of it or its author. I read the blurb on the back and was quickly intrigued. I’ve always found cults–and what allures people to them–fascinating. Then I flipped open the cover and found the author’s picture and bio. While I didn’t know the author’s name, I did know his band, The Airborne Toxic Event. 

“If I could open up my chest at that moment, there would be nothing but a blank shield inside, a barrier, rigid and sealed, from which nothing escapes, into which nothing is absorbed. It starts at the bottom of my throat and runs all the way to my knees. I hide behind it. I hold it up over me. I feel it there when I swallow, when I breathe. There are no tears because tears come from the heart and the heart is beneath the shield.”

Mikel Jollett, hollywood Park

As I read Hollywood Park, the one word that kept repeating in my head was powerful. Mikel’s description of his fractured childhood is powerful. His relationships are powerful–whether it’s the tumultuous relationship he has with his brother; the moments of kindness he receives from his stepfather; the uncomfortable, abusive relationship he has with his mother; or his father’s steadfast devotion to his sons.

The story begins with Mikel’s earliest memories of Synanon, told in the way that Mikel the child remembered it. As he grew older, the story grew with him, making his pain and confusion even more powerful as the reader grows up alongside him. His journey of self-discovery and peace is hard-fought, but rewarding and told beautifully. I found myself marking passages, moved by his words, understanding how he ended up as a songwriter. And I will never listen to his music in the same way, now that I know the story behind it.

Hollywood Park is a powerful love story from a son to his father and a message of hope and perseverance that I will not soon forget.

Thank you to the publisher, Celadon Books, for providing me with an advance copy.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

About the Author

Mikel Jollett is the frontman of the indie band The Airborne Toxic Event. Prior to forming the band, Jollett graduated with honors from Stanford University. He was an on-air columnist for NPR’s All Things Considered, an editor-at-large for Men’s Health and an editor at Filter magazine. His fiction has been published in McSweeney’s.

Find Mikel Jollett on Twitter

A Song For A Book

On Bookstagram I created a hashtag for when I include a song that reminds me of the book I’m sharing, #ASongForABook, I thought I’d make it a regular feature on my reviews, too.

Along with the release of the book, Jollett’s band, The Airborne Toxic Event, will be releasing a new concept record entitled Hollywood Park on May 22nd, which is basically the soundtrack to the book. Here’s the record’s title track, “Hollywood Park”:

…And we would laugh as the horses thundered by
And I would tip my brand new hat up to the sky
And nothing could come between you and I
As the horses ran wild through the dark 
At Hollywood Park…

I was also invited by the publisher, Celadon Books, to participate in a promotional campaign by placing an advance reader copy of Hollywood Park in a local Little Free Library, and then sharing it on Instagram. So be sure to check your local Little Free Libraries and maybe you’ll get lucky and snatch up a copy! And why isn’t this a thing everyone’s doing?? Such a great way to promote books during a time of social distancing.

Have you read Hollywood Park? Or is it on your tbr? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Wandering!

4 thoughts on “ARC Book Review | Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett”

  1. I hadn’t heard of Hollywood Park before (I don’t usually read memoirs unless I know of the person beforehand, and like you I have heard of the band but not the author before this). It does sound really powerful, though!

    Also, I agree. Not only do we need more Little Free Library book promotions, we need more LFLs period. It’s not a thing in my area of the US, and that makes me sad. (I can’t make one where I live, either, since the condo association owns the grounds and doesn’t allow residents to modify the outside at all. 🙁 )

    1. Aww, I’m sorry you don’t have a LFL near you! Hopefully someone sets one up sometime soon. Maybe try contacting a local library or bookstore and see if someone there can help set one up?? I always love when I come across one in the wild. 😉

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