Happy Release Day to Mikel Jollett! Well, I absolutely adored Hollywood Park. 5/5 stars. First off, I love memoirs. Getting access to someone else’s brain and a true insight to their life is something that we don’t often get in real life. People can tell you, but I find when someone is able to sit down and sort through their life and the feelings attached to their experiences, it’s so much more thorough and enlightening. You can see from the way my cover won’t lay flat that I took this book everywhere with me until I finished it. It was breathtaking, heart-wrenching, horrific, and endearing all at once.
Hollywood Park is written by Mikel Jollett, front man to The Toxic Airborne Event who was a child escapee of the cult Synanon. If you haven’t heard of Synanon, it started out more as a drug rehab and turned into taking children from their parents to become children of the universe (aka, raised as independent beings instead of nurtured by biological parents), forcing couples to divorce and be with other partners, and beating the hell out of anyone that disobeys the rules or tries to leave the commune. Eventually, Mikel’s parents leave the commune separately and Mikel’s mom sneaks him and his brother Tony out and here is where our book really takes off.
Hollywood Park is a poignant, revelatory window into a child’s brain that has been affected by trauma. Not only that, but the way that trauma follows us into adulthood. Mikel’s mother is clearly a narcissist, it’s plain as day from the first few chapters. Once she frees her sons from Synanon, it’s all about hers It’s INFURIATING to watch her play her emotions off of her two sons, to put the blame of her depression on them, to constantly tell Mikel that he’s supposed to be taking care of her. She takes no responsibility for what has happened in her life, or the misery she inflicted on her children. Mikel perfectly describes this pure love that a child has for their family, and how easy it is for an adult to take advantage of that pure love instead of nurturing it. When he starts the story off, he does his best to put us in his childhood perspective, his misunderstanding of words and their meaning, of behaviors, of all the bad parenting that he was none the wiser to at the time. How different the world would be if children were able to recognize the trauma that they are being exposed to, if they could set themselves aside for it and say, “I’m not going to let this affect me.” Kids don’t have that ability, though. They are sponges, absorbing the good and the bad parts of their parents, and later in life it will be up to them to sort through those parts of themselves and see what they can keep, what they desperately need to work on, and where they need to cut things off completely before it destroys them.
We see the way Mikel transforms. He has this amazing journey of succumbing to his childhood, fighting his way out of that destruction, and the long and winding road of constant vigilance that is often required when you’re a child that has been mentally, emotionally, or physically abused. Trauma is similar to addiction, in that it’s something you spend your whole life fighting, relapsing, and fighting some more. Through his sad childhood, through all the bad stuff, there’s this sweet spot that runs through it. Mikel’s relationship with his father is absolutely beautiful. It’s not perfect. Mikel has this reckoning where he realizes he can love his dad and not want the same path as him. He describes that feeling of love for a parent, even admiration you have for a parent, while wanting better for yourself. He struggles with this, and I think it’s something that really should be talked about because it’s very natural to want more for yourself. I believe his father would have been completely understanding of that as well, and probably was subconsciously. You should always want your kids to be a little (or a lot) better than you are. It’s okay to not be perfect, to make mistakes as a parent. I have the utmost respect for Jollett’s father. He had a hard life and still managed to be there emotionally and physically for his sons, where their mother failed to do so. I just really loved how this book took us from a child’s perspective, to a teenager’s, to a young adult’s, to a man’s. Seeing the way his thoughts changed through the different stages of his life, his reactions to his family’s behavior, to his own self awareness becoming more potent. I think there’s a lot of adults out there with traumatic childhoods that this book might be cathartic for. I hope that writing this WAS cathartic for Mikel Jollett. I can’t imagine something more freeing than writing down these raw moments and putting them out into the world regardless of judgement or the shame he felt in these moments, regardless of what his mother might think. There was a part of the book that Jollett talks about that shame, about how ridiculous it is that we feel shame for the things that were done to us. It’s a natural human reaction, but man, that just stuck with me. Well done, Mikel. I wish you all the success. Thank you for sharing your life story with us, there’s a lot of people you’ll be helping by doing so. Thank you to Celadon for this ARC to review, I am very appreciative of this chance.