cover image Flunk.Start.: Report from a Former Scientologist

Flunk.Start.: Report from a Former Scientologist

Sands Hall. Counterpoint, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-1-61902-178-5

Novelist and actress Hall (Catching Heaven) probes her descent into Scientology in this impassioned, wonderfully constructed memoir. Raised in a creative, bohemian family, she felt tremendous pressure from an early age to live up to the artistic expectations set by her parents—a pressure that helped to drive her away from southern California and into anorexia, an ill-fated marriage, and, eventually, Scientology’s promise of spiritual solace. In the first section, she weaves together parallel narratives that describe her childhood alongside fraught years in her 30s within Scientology, describing the psychological ideas and tactics pioneered by L. Ron Hubbard, such as the reactive mind versus the analytical mind and the interrogation practice of “auditing,” and the fear that came from the intense culture of secrecy. In the second section, the two narratives combine as she recounts the dark period in her early 20s following an incident in which her brother fell off a bridge and suffered brain damage. As her marriage crumbles and her career ebbs and flows, she turns to Scientology hoping to find answers. Instead, after seven years within Scientology, she concludes that she has made a serious mistake. Hall reflects with brutal honesty on her decisions throughout this meticulously crafted book, which explores her negative experiences with Scientology and how her desire to please led her to believe in the unbelievable. (Mar.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly stated the author's brother committed suicide.