Wednesday, April 20, 2011

FAMILY by Micol Ostow

Poetry Tag continues with a book review of a new book of poetry connected to yesterday's book review.

Today’s tagline: Another verse novel about a difficult situation

Guest Reviewer: Jennifer Bednorz

Featured Book: Ostow, Micol. 2011. Family. New York: Egmont.

Jennifer writes: This novel in verse tells the story of Mel as she runs way from her dysfunctional, abusive home. In San Francisco she is found by a charismatic leader, Henry, and offered sanctuary in his "family." Set in California during the era of free love and dirty hippies, the story parallels the real life story of the Charles Manson's family and their attempt at helter skelter.

Poems in this book are written in first person and told from Mel's point of view. Ostow reveals through the poems that Mel was disconnected from her mother and was sexually molested by her step-father whom she was instructed to refer to as "Uncle." This sets up the scenario for Mel to be looking for a place to belong when Henry finds her and invites her to join the family. The repetition of certain phrases like "no ego no i" and "no mother no father" lets the reader visually see the brainwashing that Henry is using to control Mel and his other "children." By offering love, drugs, and a home, he manipulates his “children” to do his bidding.

As the story unfolds, phrases are set in italics and brackets "<>". The phrases that are set apart reveal that Mel is beginning to question the mind control happening on the ranch. The end of the book presents a twist that the reader does not see coming, given the need to belong that Mel expresses and the home that the family offers.

Although it could be used to teach poetry in an English class, I see the true teaching power in this book through its message and not necessarily through the form. Exploring this novel in a psychology course while discussing cults would be a powerful experience. It would also allow students to see poetry in a cross-curricular light as a medium for conveying meaning without getting bogged down in the mechanics of rhyme and meter.

Tomorrow’s tagline: Another sensitive novel in verse

[We’re more than halfway through Poetry Month—still time to grab a copy of PoetryTagTime, an e-book with 30 poems, all connected, by 30 poets, all connected and downloadable right now at Amazon for your Kindle or Kindle app for your computer, iPad or phone. Just 99 cents.]

Image credit: PoetryTagTime; Egmont

Posting (not poem) by Sylvia M. Vardell and students © 2011. All rights reserved.

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