A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett- Feature and Review


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.



Hollywood ParkHollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett is a 2020 Celadon Books publication.

An unconventional journey fraught with adversity, but ultimately an inspirational memoir

To be honest, I went into this memoir blind. I think I added it mainly due to the mention of a cult, a topic I am often drawn to. However, before starting the book, I Googled Jollett, and listened to his music, wondering why I had not stumbled across him earlier.

But, despite my unfamiliarity with the author, I found myself pulled into his original approach, in which he uses the voice of his childhood,making it seem as though we are living these experiences right along with him. It is instantaneously obvious that Mikel’s upbringing is irregular, to say the least.

Although I have heard of many cults, I was not familiar with Synanon, the cult Jollett lived in until the age of five, when his mother finally escaped. Again, I did a little Googling and learned that the cult was supposed to be a drug rehabilitation center but had turned violent.

While it is a relief to know the family made it out of that situation, Mikel’s childhood is far from stable. Addiction, narcissism, and a lack of traditional parenting, forces Mikel to become wizened beyond his years.

This is a powerful, compelling memoir. Jollet’s extraordinary writing technique gives one a poignant look at addiction and the emotional drain that reigns on all of those involved. His words are tender and merciful, his memories affecting, and his courage inspiring.

Despite the painful scars, Mikel’s hard work and personal growth have broken chains, providing him with the strength and insight to become a productive and successful adult.

Overall, a compelling memoir I am so glad I took a chance on!






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


  1. I've read quite a few positive reviews on this one! Great review!

    1. Thanks so much!! It's one of the best memoirs I've read this year, so far. His unconventional approach really paid off!


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