Book Review - Hollywood Park: A Memoir

ICSA Today, 13.1, 2022, 20

Book Review: Hollywood Park: A Memoir

By Mikel Jollett

Celadon Books, May 2020. $13,60, hardcover; $17.99, paperback; $14.99, Kindle ( 384 pages (hardcover).

Reviewed by Gina Catena

Wiping away tears as I finish Mikel Jollett’s hauntingly sad, beautifully raw, and inspiring memoir Hollywood Park…, I recommend this book to anyone who works with clients born or raised in cultic groups. While reading the last third of his narrative, I regularly stopped to breathe through moist eyes of commiseration. Hollywood Park…, more than any other memoir I’ve read of a person who was born or raised in a cult, illustrates what my own children refer to as The Aftermath. Jollett describes how children yanked from their familiar (cult) life struggle to find footing while destabilized parents stumble in mainstream life.

Jollett and his brother were born into the now defunct, infamous Synanon cult. From the age of 6 months, the brothers were sent to live in a Synanon boarding “school.” Occasionally, strangers who Jollett is told to call Mom and Dad visit. One night, at the age of 5, Jollett experiences his first automobile ride when “mom” kidnaps him and his 7-year-old brother from their group home, introducing them to a driver called Grandfather. 

Jollett’s writing in present tense enables the reader to co-experience his innocent disorientation as he learns about a strange concept called F-A-M-I-L-Y; confronts adult mental illness and addiction; and witnesses the brutal attack of an adult friend by Synanon members. The story follows Jollett’s childhood through poverty, a revolving door of stepparents, public schools, addictions, learning to hide his background from the outside world to gain social acceptance, and a violent sibling relationship that ultimately heals.

As an adult, Jollett seeks therapy to make sense of his inability to form meaningful relationships. He shares insights about attachment disorders and children of mentally ill parents. This tumultuous life spans postcult homelessness, addiction, Ivy League education, and his indie-rock band. This loving portrayal of one family’s ultimate victory over multigenerational cult aftermath is a heart-wrenching and inspirational must-read for anyone in the cultic studies field.

About the Reviewer

Gina Catena, MS, was raised in the Transcendental Meditation (TM) group as an early “child of the Age of Enlightenment.” She married and was a parent in the group until the age of 30. After 22 years of childhood and young adulthood enmeshed in the TM culture, Ms. Catena left the group with three children and obtained an education and career while integrating into mainstream culture. She lives with ongoing cult influence through three generations of her immediate family. She contributed to Child of the Cult by Nori Muster, Combating Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan, and has written articles, given talks, and facilitated workshops for those raised in cultic groups. Ms. Catena is also working on several projects about family influence in cults. She earned a Master of Science (MS) degree from the University of California at San Francisco, with national recognition for medical anthropology research. Her undergraduate degrees, Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Art History, and Bachelor of Science (BS) in Nursing with a minor in psychology, both summa cum laude, are from Dominican University of San Rafael. She works as certified nurse-midwife (CNM) and nurse practitioner (NP) in the San Francisco Bay Area.