Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What I Loved:

Mikel Jollett wrote this memoir in a way that made me see how he felt going through these experiences. His narrative changes as he ages, so I really got a sense of the issues that he dealt with during each age range of his life. As a child, his story is written with a child’s narrative, and it was my favorite part. I loved how he chose to spell or write words, making me understand what this word meant or how it sounded to him as a child.

How I Felt:

I listened to the audio version of this book, so my review will discuss both the book itself, and the narration of the book.

Mikel Jollett spent the early years of his life in a cult called Synanon in California. Synanon started as a drug rehabilitation group, drawing Mikel’s parents to the cult, as his father was an addict. Synanon leaders soon forgot their original purpose, transforming into the cult Mikel grew up in. All children were separated from parents and raised in an orphanage-type environment within the Synanon encampment. Many children did not understand who their parents were, and some families rarely saw each other. Mikel writes about his brother in a description of the treatment of the children and it broke my heart.

“Tony used to sit alone at the edge of the playground all day. He didn’t trust the adults and he didn’t play with other kids that much. Maybe it’s because someone did bad things to him…..The kids would get hit really hard or locked in a closet and there was no mom or dad to tell because they lived somewhere else and you couldn’t even remember their faces.”

Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett

Mikel’s mother whisks him and his brother away one the night, escaping the compound. They lived with Mikel’s parents for a while, then moved in with another escapee, Phil, from Synanon. Mikel’s descriptions of this time were extremely impactful, and yet written through the eyes of a child. He discusses how the men from Synanon came and beat Phil horribly, and asked where Tony and Mikel were. Knowing that the people of Synanon were looking for them, Mikel’s mother moved them to Oregon.

Hollywood Park is more than just a story about living in and escaping a cult. It is truly about the lasting impact some choices can have on us and those we love. Synanon was only a part of Mikel’s early childhood, and yet, it stayed with his mother and their family for years. His mother spirals deeper and deeper into depression and addiction, which becomes something that Mikel also struggles with. While Mikel had a rough youth, he was able to find stability and happiness with the help of therapy.

While Mikel’s story is one that will make your heart hurt for him, he finds ways to offer lighthearted comments that make you smile. I especially enjoyed Mikel’s story about his mother constantly calling Ronald Reagan, the presidential candidate at the time, “Thatasshole Reagan”. He didn’t know his first name was actually Ronald for a long time. Little stories like this are sprinkled throughout the writing providing a wonderful balance between the hardships of Mikel’s life, as well as the moments of joy.

Mikel Jollett, the author, narrates Hollywood Park and I think that he does an excellent job. He has a nice cadence with an easy-to-understand speech. I think he also added an authentic feeling to the story, as it is his story. The audio also had musical additions to the intros and outros of the chapters, and I enjoyed this little bonus.

Overall, I really enjoyed Hollywood Park. I thought it was a very moving memoir that offers a story of a hard life, but also of redemption and healing.

Content Warnings:

This book discusses child harm, child neglect, cults, alcoholism, drug use, and addiction.

To Read or Not To Read:

I would recommend Hollywood Park for readers that enjoy a memoir focusing on a troubled childhood and overcoming obstacles. I think that readers interested in the lasting impressions of a cult on someone would find this interesting as well! I would highly recommend the audio version of this, as the author does an excellent job narrating.

Where to Find This Book:

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett publishes on May 26, 2020 and is available at these sites.

Libro.FM | Bookshop | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Goodreads
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Chosen as a Most Anticipated Book of 2020 by 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.

Just the Facts:

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
Genre: Memoir
Page Count: 384 pages
Publisher: Celadon Books
Pub Date: May 26, 2020
Audio Listening Time: 11 hours and 45 minutes
Audio Narrator: Mikel Jollett
Audio Publisher: Macmillan Audio


I was provided an advanced listening copy of this book for free. I am leaving my honest, unbiased review voluntarily.

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