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Synanon Kid: Book One: A Memoir of Growing Up in the Synanon Cult

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"I told you mothers do not matter here. We are all your mothers. Isn't that better than just having one?" An ordinary weekend becomes surreal when Celena's mother, whom she has not seen for years, returns to claim her. Told that she is going to visit a place called Synanon, six-year-old Celena leaves her native Los Angeles on a bus for a secluded ranch setting in Northern "I told you mothers do not matter here. We are all your mothers. Isn't that better than just having one?" An ordinary weekend becomes surreal when Celena's mother, whom she has not seen for years, returns to claim her. Told that she is going to visit a place called Synanon, six-year-old Celena leaves her native Los Angeles on a bus for a secluded ranch setting in Northern California where the residents are strangely bald and dressed uniformly in overalls. Coming to realize this eerie institution is to be her new home, Celena is ultimately forced to develop a new strength of being to protect herself against the abusive school demonstrators, the troubled children, and the chilling thought that she and her mother might never leave. C.A. Wittman's daring memoir is a coming-of-age story about growing up in a cult, the unconditional love between a mother and daughter, and how that love helped a young girl to grow and flourish against the odds of her distorted childhood.


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"I told you mothers do not matter here. We are all your mothers. Isn't that better than just having one?" An ordinary weekend becomes surreal when Celena's mother, whom she has not seen for years, returns to claim her. Told that she is going to visit a place called Synanon, six-year-old Celena leaves her native Los Angeles on a bus for a secluded ranch setting in Northern "I told you mothers do not matter here. We are all your mothers. Isn't that better than just having one?" An ordinary weekend becomes surreal when Celena's mother, whom she has not seen for years, returns to claim her. Told that she is going to visit a place called Synanon, six-year-old Celena leaves her native Los Angeles on a bus for a secluded ranch setting in Northern California where the residents are strangely bald and dressed uniformly in overalls. Coming to realize this eerie institution is to be her new home, Celena is ultimately forced to develop a new strength of being to protect herself against the abusive school demonstrators, the troubled children, and the chilling thought that she and her mother might never leave. C.A. Wittman's daring memoir is a coming-of-age story about growing up in a cult, the unconditional love between a mother and daughter, and how that love helped a young girl to grow and flourish against the odds of her distorted childhood.

30 review for Synanon Kid: Book One: A Memoir of Growing Up in the Synanon Cult

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicole O'Connor

    10 STARS for this eye-opening page-turner. Why isn’t it a movie yet? This book tells a true but shocking story. It is written from a child’s perspective. Celena’s domestic setting was deplorable. Her parents never married and then broke up when she was very young. The father indulged himself with many girlfriends while her desperate and depressed mother shacked up with any man who would house and feed her for any length of time. Despite all this, Celena remains faithful to her mother. This situat 10 STARS for this eye-opening page-turner. Why isn’t it a movie yet? This book tells a true but shocking story. It is written from a child’s perspective. Celena’s domestic setting was deplorable. Her parents never married and then broke up when she was very young. The father indulged himself with many girlfriends while her desperate and depressed mother shacked up with any man who would house and feed her for any length of time. Despite all this, Celena remains faithful to her mother. This situation was far from ideal for young Celena who was forced to endure harsh treatment from some of her mother’s male counterparts. Desperation and the quest for a sense of belonging somewhere safe seemed to be the motivating factors that drove Celena’s mother into taking her six-year-old daughter to live within a ranch-style commune among the people of the Synanon Cult situated in northern California. However, before they arrived, they knew little of the cult’s anti-family stance. This book made for compulsive reading. It is an eye-opening page-turner based on truth. It exposes the cruel abnormal policies, practices and propaganda the Synanon children were forced to endure in a so-called modern America. This story needs to be told and deserves to be heard. Celena is a commendable survivor who did her best to fight her way out of a dreadful situation starting from the age of six. She was kept as a child prisoner where there was nobody helpful or trustworthy to turn to. This book would make a great movie--I feel surprised it hasn’t been snapped up yet! It is recommendable for anyone interested in the following genres: religion, cults, memoirs, coming-of-age stories, biographical, child education, psychology and sociology. The protagonist is Celena, a six-year-old girl who fights a mental battle against her sentence of living among the awful, programmed people within the Synanon Cult commune. I would not recommend this book to anyone who is overly sensitive and insecure to the point that they cannot face up to the real horrors of other people’s lives; or to those who are too frail to read about the struggles and turmoil of pubescent sexuality. Readers should also be warned there are a few brief sections that depict neglect and cruelty to animals. Although this is the case, Celena does not in any way advocate or approve of this cruelty. She was the innocent child bystander who was forced, against her will, to witness these barbaric acts. To penalise her for being brave enough to write about these horrific, yet truthful statements, would only serve to deliver another injury to the hurting child inside her--and she does not deserve further pain. Celena’s style of writing is exceptionally well-edited and engaging. The dialogue draws the reader into the story in a natural, believable way. Her three-dimensional characters are credible and well-developed. Despite this book containing sexual content and some bodily functions, Celena manages to write with scrupulous dignity throughout her book. This story contains minimal bad language where appropriate as part of the storyline. It would be false not to use those words where included. They deliver a reality that illustrates specific situations that are paramount to the story. The inner content of this book was not predictable in any way, although the eventual outcome was--she got out. This is not a spoiler, simply because the mere fact that this book was ever written goes to show that she eventually escaped. As a reader, I felt no part of this book was contrived. The conclusion was satisfying although I must admit to wondering how her life panned out afterwards. The fact that Celena progressed to the point of writing this book tells me enough--she obviously grew up into a smart, sophisticated woman who survived. Anyone who is arrogant enough to condemn this written content as ‘made-up’ has obviously never been exposed to living in a harsh commune. It is a known fact that events with high emotional impact are seared into the human memory, at an early age, and this can easily happen from the age of four. The thing I liked most about this book was that not only did Celena survive, her unyielding defiance of the cult’s attempted indoctrination over her conscious mind ultimately failed. Celena rose to become herself. She never stopped loving her mother, and she defied everyone in the cult by continuing to believe in herself and in her own abilities. Celena proved them all wrong--she’s not stupid. She’s smart, beautiful and bright. Kudos to Celena for having the courage to write all about her deeply personal, tragic experiences that lay bare naked truths that society ignored and avoided for far too many years. On a closing note, I feel compelled to say that if Celena’s parents had loved each other and stayed together, then none of this would have happened to their beautiful, strong daughter, but they didn’t. Sadly, Celena is no different to millions of other kids who come from broken homes. Most pay the price for their parents’ poor life choices. Despite this, Celena remains loyal to her mother. If she had scorned her mother, I could understand it, but she continued to love her. I suddenly found myself asking, “But why? How can she still love her mother?” I reckon the answer lies in Celena’s rebellion against the Synanon Cult. The whole while she lived there (about five years) the cult kept trying to sever the bond between mothers and their children. Celena’s silent, inner rebellion against the cult’s beliefs are what pulled her through. She knew something had wired her to instinctively love her mother despite all her mother’s dreadful failings. By loving her mother, Celena continues to do what she knows is right. Celena’s love continues to defy the damage that the Synanon Cult tried to inflict on her and her mother’s lives. And from this, I realise that Celena will always love her mother--no matter what. On a scale of 1 to 10, one being poor and ten being excellent, I would rate this book TEN (10). Well done, C. A. Wittman, I loved reading your book! I will never forget your bitter-sweet story of a young girl’s survival.

  2. 5 out of 5

    A girl has no name

    I won this book awhile ago & it just sat on my shelf. I wish I hadn't waited so long! It had me from page 1. My heart broke for the life this child lived. She is a survivor! Fantastic read! I won this book awhile ago & it just sat on my shelf. I wish I hadn't waited so long! It had me from page 1. My heart broke for the life this child lived. She is a survivor! Fantastic read!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Daina Fanning

    This book was absolutely engrossing. A fascinating story written with economical prose that vividly painted the strange world the author has experienced. I hope there is a sequel that picks up where this finished!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Clint the Cool Guy

    Surprisingly flat and lifeless. I didn’t enjoy this book very much. It seems like for what should be such an interesting topic, the author seems disconnected, like it happened to someone else. There is way too much filler here, with long, rambling digressions about irrelevant topics. Like describing in minute detail how breakfast tasted, or the plots of various children’s books, or even what a Godzilla movie is. What is the point of all that? The author also tends to beat around the bush about et Surprisingly flat and lifeless. I didn’t enjoy this book very much. It seems like for what should be such an interesting topic, the author seems disconnected, like it happened to someone else. There is way too much filler here, with long, rambling digressions about irrelevant topics. Like describing in minute detail how breakfast tasted, or the plots of various children’s books, or even what a Godzilla movie is. What is the point of all that? The author also tends to beat around the bush about ethnicity. The topic appears to be important to her, but instead of being direct (like saying, “my father was black”), she describes it all in vague terms, leaving it up to the reader to try to figure out. But if it’s important, why be vague about it? And if it’s not important, then why talk about it? I don’t understand. There’s surprisingly little introspection in this book. Just mostly emotionless descriptions of random events, some of which I found hard to believe. An evil stepmother grinding up dead spiders in cooked eggs and making her eat it? Seven year old boys “masturbating” on top of girls? I mean, seven year olds don’t even do that. But no explanation is offered. I’m just thinking, “Really?” And the same tone of voice used to describe the author’s favorite TV show is also used to describe a hit and run that almost killed another kid. It’s hard to care when the author doesn’t seem to care. There is also a long, random list of names that come up. But we never get to know any of these people. And the author never makes any friends. They are all just people she hates, who in return hate her. No personal connection to anyone at all. Is that really what it was like? Warning: There is some animal cruelty in the book, so steel yourself for that. It’s not for the squeamish. There is a little bit of human cruelty too, but surprisingly little considering the circumstances. In a lot of ways, Synanon sounded not much worse than going to a strict boarding school. With memoirs, I often don’t know whether to believe it or not. Some authors exaggerate. I hope this author isn’t exaggerating. But I didn’t feel like I learned very much. It’s all surface stuff. A lot of words, but not much to say.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Karla Strand

    I had never heard of the Synanon cult before this book came to my attention, but c'mon, we are all intrigued by such stories, right? Well this memoir of CA Wittman's time in Synanon doesn't disappoint. I appreciated Wittman's creative narratives of her memories, of her complicated relationship with her mother to times of want within the cult. Growing up in the cult imparted on Wittman unrealistic, unstable, and untrusting views of the world, and understandably so. I could relate to her creation I had never heard of the Synanon cult before this book came to my attention, but c'mon, we are all intrigued by such stories, right? Well this memoir of CA Wittman's time in Synanon doesn't disappoint. I appreciated Wittman's creative narratives of her memories, of her complicated relationship with her mother to times of want within the cult. Growing up in the cult imparted on Wittman unrealistic, unstable, and untrusting views of the world, and understandably so. I could relate to her creation of a robust fantasy life to cope with a confusing, and often violent, reality. As she grew older, she learned to talk fast and loud in order to not get taken advantage of by others. But she also turned to books, which gave her solace in the knowledge that others dealt with similar oppression and longing in their own lives. Wittman is a talented writer of memoir; you get about as close to Synanon as you can without being there (but we really don't want to be there, right?). If you are interested in memoirs, creative nonfiction, stories about cults, or books by women of color, you will probably enjoy Synanon Kid. I did.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    I'm always interested in real-life experiences, especially surrounding elements of society that few of us are exposed to. While there were some interesting parts to this memoir, much of it was tedious and provided no support for the story itself - it just felt like page-filler There was much more opportunity here to explain how the cult was dangerous, but the author let that pass by. I'm always interested in real-life experiences, especially surrounding elements of society that few of us are exposed to. While there were some interesting parts to this memoir, much of it was tedious and provided no support for the story itself - it just felt like page-filler There was much more opportunity here to explain how the cult was dangerous, but the author let that pass by.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alfred J. Coscia

    Well-penned True Take of Cult Rearing This book is an excellent recounting of Ms. Wittman's sudden and very disturbing whisking away from her I've of love and family. Her mother was a devout member of the now defunct, and infamous cult Synanon. This book will likely be a harrowing experience to read, as this cult and its abuses are hard to read about. My heart goes out to the children who were forced into this complex and horrendous life. Ms. Wittman has done am excellent job of recounting her chi Well-penned True Take of Cult Rearing This book is an excellent recounting of Ms. Wittman's sudden and very disturbing whisking away from her I've of love and family. Her mother was a devout member of the now defunct, and infamous cult Synanon. This book will likely be a harrowing experience to read, as this cult and its abuses are hard to read about. My heart goes out to the children who were forced into this complex and horrendous life. Ms. Wittman has done am excellent job of recounting her childhood before, during and after the horrors of Synanon. She is exceedingly frank, and provides the reader with the feeling as though they are truly there. Her recounting is not all horrors and she seems to have made her peace with her past. She has my respect, not just because she endured so much, but because it didn't break her. I strongly recommend this well-written, auto-biographical accounting of growing up in one of the most destructive and violent cults in America. She's a gifted writer that offers a sadly, very large collection of hardship. Yet, hope is key element throughout. I found myself unable to put it down. As Always, I Wish Happy Reads to All from the Unapologetic Book Junkie 😉!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Frances Revel

    i adore the structure of this memoir. the chapters are often vignette-like and self-contained while still reaching to form a cohesive whole out of a complex narrative, enacting the form that memory and trauma often adopt in our lives. much of Synanon Kid reads like a novel: its pace is at times wonderfully lulling and at times sharp and piercing. the language is musical with detail that both indulges and disturbs the reader, often in the same sentence. despite its history as such a large and pow i adore the structure of this memoir. the chapters are often vignette-like and self-contained while still reaching to form a cohesive whole out of a complex narrative, enacting the form that memory and trauma often adopt in our lives. much of Synanon Kid reads like a novel: its pace is at times wonderfully lulling and at times sharp and piercing. the language is musical with detail that both indulges and disturbs the reader, often in the same sentence. despite its history as such a large and powerful community, it seems likely that many readers will have no prior knowledge of Synanon, and this account provides a strong historical foundation to prevent confusion and ground the reader. as a narrator, the young Celena is able to embody both the whispering observance of a child and the matured consideration of a maternal figure, while still exposing the heated emotions and moments of confusion that are inevitably vital to the story. a specific experience foreign to most readers is here able to shed light on familiar themes of kindness, grief, joy, abuse, familial struggle, immense love and the strength of such love. this book is a rich, important, and touching reflection.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Hazel

    Incredible! I recieved this book in a giveaway and never have I been so please with a book I went into mostly blind. Lovely cover design caught my eye. I knew nothing about the "cult" passed a buzz of that sounds familiar upon reading the name. I have been inspired by this touching and so so honest book to read more into the history of Synanon. The author is so candid and unapologetic, she simply states the factual events that happened without trying for heavy handed poetic embellishment on lesso Incredible! I recieved this book in a giveaway and never have I been so please with a book I went into mostly blind. Lovely cover design caught my eye. I knew nothing about the "cult" passed a buzz of that sounds familiar upon reading the name. I have been inspired by this touching and so so honest book to read more into the history of Synanon. The author is so candid and unapologetic, she simply states the factual events that happened without trying for heavy handed poetic embellishment on lessons learned etc that most memoirs fall into. The story of this poor girls childhood years will stay with me for a long time. Additionally my mother and sisters are now going to be coerced into reading it. Read it in one day, shockingly readable for such a heavy topic. Sall happily take a place on my shelf to be re-read. I hope the author is in no way offended is I put it on the shelf with my Manson books but they are both 60/70s California counter culture topics :/ (Also in my giveaway copy was a little hand written note from Wittman which was a lovely touch)

  10. 4 out of 5

    Laura E. Mackey

    Interesting reading of a cult from a child perspective. I was very interested in reading this book. I was able to get the next book free, but after reading the info on that book I realised that I needed to read this book first. As a child being taken from the only life she knew and dropped off at a place she thought she was visiting, her life is turned on it's head. Her mother steals her and takes her to this place with other children who are bald. Then her mother disappers and she is taken to th Interesting reading of a cult from a child perspective. I was very interested in reading this book. I was able to get the next book free, but after reading the info on that book I realised that I needed to read this book first. As a child being taken from the only life she knew and dropped off at a place she thought she was visiting, her life is turned on it's head. Her mother steals her and takes her to this place with other children who are bald. Then her mother disappers and she is taken to the bathroom and her hair removed. This begins a 3 or 4 year life in a cult. The story is very interesting and I believe I got a lot out of the telling. If you have any interest in cults then this is a book you should read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Very interesting read.Before this book, I had never heard of The Synanon Cult of southern California in the sixties. I was captivated by the cover of the book....thought the cover was a young boy. The There has been quit a bit written about Synannon Cult in literature and in many memoirs and scores of articles , but C. A. Wittman is the first to write from a child's point of view. Synanon started as a place for persons in rough situations could go for help....which morphed into a ciult led by CE Very interesting read.Before this book, I had never heard of The Synanon Cult of southern California in the sixties. I was captivated by the cover of the book....thought the cover was a young boy. The There has been quit a bit written about Synannon Cult in literature and in many memoirs and scores of articles , but C. A. Wittman is the first to write from a child's point of view. Synanon started as a place for persons in rough situations could go for help....which morphed into a ciult led by CED(Charles Edward Dederich) controlling every aspect of his members lives...from what they ate to what they did for work and even who they mary (or divorced) with severe consequences if they refused.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Easy to read story of growing up in the Synanon Cult. I knew nothing about Synanon before reading this book, despite growing up in the mountains of Northern California. The author has an easy way about her writing, stating what needs to be said with just enough detail. It suits writing as an adult but remembering her childhood. I would love to find out how she made it out and was able to go beyond to having a family of her own today. I received this book as a giveaway - thank you so much for the Easy to read story of growing up in the Synanon Cult. I knew nothing about Synanon before reading this book, despite growing up in the mountains of Northern California. The author has an easy way about her writing, stating what needs to be said with just enough detail. It suits writing as an adult but remembering her childhood. I would love to find out how she made it out and was able to go beyond to having a family of her own today. I received this book as a giveaway - thank you so much for the note and the book. Review left on Amazon as well.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lena

    The book gave incredible insights on how it feels to grow up in the Synanon cult. I read the book without knowing anything about the cult and their beliefs. Looking back, this gave me many moments in which I was having so many questions about the grownups in the cult and the background, which was a little bit distracting. I would therefore recommend this book for people who know a bit about the cult already (reading some on Wikipedia should be enough) and then dive in.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    A harrowing, powerful account of a young girl's experience in the Synanon cult. I was moved by the stories & resilience of the author, while also learning a great deal about the history of Synanon. Many of the chapters are told in a straight-forward manner, with the author's memories (and additional research/verification she did as an adult) and not too much commentary. I found this an effective way of telling this story, as it helps the reader draw their own conclusions. A harrowing, powerful account of a young girl's experience in the Synanon cult. I was moved by the stories & resilience of the author, while also learning a great deal about the history of Synanon. Many of the chapters are told in a straight-forward manner, with the author's memories (and additional research/verification she did as an adult) and not too much commentary. I found this an effective way of telling this story, as it helps the reader draw their own conclusions.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carla

    Very well-written account of a childhood spent in a 1970s cult. I am looking forward to Part II, since a big and as yet untold part of the story is how C. A. Wittman's upbringing in Synanon affected her later life and her transition back to the outside world. Very well-written account of a childhood spent in a 1970s cult. I am looking forward to Part II, since a big and as yet untold part of the story is how C. A. Wittman's upbringing in Synanon affected her later life and her transition back to the outside world.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bridget Holbert

    Good Well written childhood story of a young girl who grew up in a cult. This book immediately drew me in. It did get a bit boring in parts but overall it is a interesting account of the author’s childhood.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    Ok story, cw for cruelty to cats .. And cruelty to children, obviously. But be warned that this includes some upsetting material on the animal front too. It's written pretty well, but I didn't find it riveting reading. Just depressing. Ok story, cw for cruelty to cats .. And cruelty to children, obviously. But be warned that this includes some upsetting material on the animal front too. It's written pretty well, but I didn't find it riveting reading. Just depressing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Zieger

    I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway. This was a nonfiction book about one child’s life while growing up in the Synanon cult. This was really detailed and not only gave a look at the author’s life, but those around her as well. It was well written and very interesting to learn about.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alyson

    Stunning A well written account of the author's childhood spent in a Synanon commune. I'm going to have to read the sequel, because I have to know how she adjusted to life outside of the cult. Stunning A well written account of the author's childhood spent in a Synanon commune. I'm going to have to read the sequel, because I have to know how she adjusted to life outside of the cult.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Janet Cardillo

    Sometimes tedious I enjoyed the story, but. Found too much pp i]n parts that became tedious. For example describing books she had read, I felt that I was reading it again so great was the detail. But the situation was very interesting and informative.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Autumn Crum

    This little girl went through a lot. The abuse she suffered at the hands of people that were supposed to protect her was just devastating. Her daddy need his azz kicked for being such a dead beat. If he were a better father than half the stuff wouldn’t have happened

  22. 5 out of 5

    Belle Beth Cooper

    This book is essentially a series of disconnected memories. At about 60% through I got bored of them and wished for a more over-arching narrative. It wasn't bad, and was easy to read, but I found it a bit of a drudge by the end. This book is essentially a series of disconnected memories. At about 60% through I got bored of them and wished for a more over-arching narrative. It wasn't bad, and was easy to read, but I found it a bit of a drudge by the end.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Christine Cazeneuve

    Amazing story Terrific read. Couldn't put it down as her story was so compelling. I rooted for her all the way. What a strong young lady she was to endure what she did. Most enjoyable book. Amazing story Terrific read. Couldn't put it down as her story was so compelling. I rooted for her all the way. What a strong young lady she was to endure what she did. Most enjoyable book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Burns

    Wow! I remember hearing about this group. Did not realize it was so controlling. I am so glad the author, and famiy got out in time.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ann

    Told from a child’s viewpoint, a chilling account of life in a cult. A must read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Lets face it few pre-teens have enough life experience to write a memoir. This author is not one of the exceptions. The book does sound like it was written by a child. Enough said.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rani

    Won in a goodreads giveaway. Overall not a bad book. Just not for me. I found I struggled with the pacing of it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lisa-Jaine

    This was told from a child's perspective of being placed into a cult by a parent. Intriguing and fascinating. I actually knew nothing of this particular cult before reading this. This was told from a child's perspective of being placed into a cult by a parent. Intriguing and fascinating. I actually knew nothing of this particular cult before reading this.

  29. 4 out of 5

    loretta vertullo

    . I love learning about something new. I've never heard about Synanon. This was a real treat. I could put the book down. . I love learning about something new. I've never heard about Synanon. This was a real treat. I could put the book down.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Wolfe

    reasonably well-done. I enjoyed reading it.

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