Synanon Kid Grows Up: A Memoir Of Learning To Live Outside The Synanon Cult
by C.A. Wittman
Genre: Memoir & Biography/Women/YA
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“Commune shopping,” my mother, Theresa, called it as if to imply some sort of fun. But I wasn’t fooled. One shopped for shoes, clothes, and groceries, not insular bizarre private societies to devote years of one’s life to.
After spending almost five years of her childhood in the Synanon cult, Celena has developed a deep longing and desire for normalcy, to live in a house with her mother, attend public school, and meld into the plainness of mainstream American life.
In October 1981, Celena’s longtime wish to leave the commune is finally realized, and one cold fall morning she departs by bus from the rural property in Marin with her mother, stepfather, and stepsister to start their lives anew. Yet right from the beginning, ideals of how and where to live clash within their small family. While Celena and her stepsister yearn for a nuclear home, their parents are on the hunt for the next utopia.
Money is tight and tempers are hot as the four try to navigate the challenge of what it is to be a family while attempting to survive in a society that rewards individualism over collectivism. For the first time, Celena is made aware of what it means to be black in a white world, sometimes struggling with a level of invisibility that she was not prepared for. Longing to belong somewhere, she develops the fierce desire to return to Los Angeles and the African American communities she came from.
As Celena grows into a young woman, her existential angst has her questioning God’s existence and taking a hard look at materialism and the values of the American mainstream culture that she once idealized. Over time, she learns to embrace the counterculture lifestyle of the Santa Cruz community that she and her family have settled in. Through her stepfather’s role as a drug counselor at the Sunflower House rehab, she comes to have a deeper understanding of what the Synanon cult was all about and why people initially became attracted to the commune.
This is the story of a young woman’s search for identity while coming to terms with her past as a Synanon kid.