Musician Mikel Jollett didn’t have an easy childhood. In his upcoming memoir, titled Hollywood Park, he tells his story. It’s a moving exposition of many topics, from cults to chronic depression, addiction, and the power of family to both hurt and heal. Jollett’s writing seems honest to a fault, while delicately balancing the book’s overall mood.
When he was just six months old, his parents were members of a cult that separated kids from parents. In essence, he was raised in a setting similar to an orphanage. When his mom left the cult and scooped Jollett and his older brother up, the situation only improved marginally. She and the kids lived in and out of poverty, with a revolving door of men in her life. They raised rabbits for food, shopped at Goodwill, and Jollett was shoehorned into a role as her protector and confessor. Not much of the situation was appropriate for a kid not even 10 years old.
Soon after, Jollett and his older brother move to the Los Angeles area to live with their dad and soon-to-be stepmom. The difference between households is stark. And, though the L.A. family situation isn’t perfect, it’s better. In that home, Jollett gets involved more deeply in alcohol in drugs. He and his dad connect over bets and horse racing. But he also ends up diving into his high school studies and going to Stanford University.
I won’t tell you the rest of the story, but his path to success as the front man in an L.A.-based indie rock band, Airborne Toxic Event, is a unique and compelling story.
This book is a slow burn. The intensity of each story and situation drew me in and wouldn’t let go. Jollett emits both sadness and strength, even as a small kid. And he’s also deeply vulnerable. This is an author willing to flay open his heart and let us look at each moment of weakness and pain. Doing so only made me hope more for his ability to beat back his demons and rise above.
It’s impossible not to care about this man revisiting his childhood and teen years. As Jollett describes people, events, and his own feelings, I wanted to transport the boy away from the difficulties. But dealing with everything has made him who his is today.
I appreciated Jollett’s honest depiction of mental health and addiction crises. He doesn’t glorify either situation, instead showing both the ups and the downs. I give him a lot of credit for discussing his process in talk therapy as well.
If you like an emotional coming-of-age memoir, this is a solid choice. Watch for it in May of 2020.
Pair with Barbarian Days by William Finnegan for a different California childhood. Or Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming for a difficult childhood transcended by performing.
Many thanks to Celadon Books and the author for the opportunity to read an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.