Reviews & Endorsements
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.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Sands Hall’s transcendent memoir, Flunk. Start, describes, with precise and utterly absorbing detail, her experience in the world of Scientology. But this is also a story that explores so many issues—how language is used to both illuminate and obscure, how we long for connection and meaning; it’s also a vivid portrait of how we find a place in our family and find a path through chaos. I could not put down this book—it is a triumph, a work of great honesty and insight. It is a necessary book for our time.
Karen E. Bender, author of Refund, Finalist, National Book Award
It is a great strength of Sands Hall’s clear-eyed and compelling memoir that she shows what she found authentic and rewarding in the Church of Scientology, not merely its corruption and imprisoning dogma. There is regret in her account but little anger or blame. Her triumph is not that she got out, but that she winnowed what nourishment the church could provide and took it forward in her spiritual journey.
John Daniel, author of Gifted and Rogue River Journal
In this unflinching and nuanced self-portrait, Sands Hall examines a decade of entanglement with the cult of Scientology and her circuitous process of liberation. Interweaving the backstory of a tragic accident that left a hole in her legendary family, Hall takes readers on a profound journey of loss, longing, and recovery.
Elizabeth Rosner, author of Survivor Café
Sands Hall, daughter of a novelist whose writing workshop launched the careers of dozens of famous authors, was born into intellectual splendor, but worried about living up to her family’s reputation and expectations. How Scientology used those youthful fears to rope her into one of the greatest mind-control hustles of all time is a cautionary tale not only for our religious life, but especially now, for our political one.
Jordan Fisher Smith, author of Engineering Eden and Nature Noir
Sands Hall has brought her remarkable talents to bear on this memoir. By turns endearing and alarming, this story describes the hazards involved in having to choose between a strong, loving family and a demanding, seductive church – between one sort of belonging and another. I consider it Sands’ best book.
Lynn Freed, author of The Last Laugh and The Romance of Elsewhere
Sands Hall displays her fine literary talent in Flunk. Start, a raw and moving account of her personal journey through the Church of Scientology. Sands shares her uniquely Californian coming-of-age tale with grace and courage.
Julia Flynn Siler, author of The House of Mondavi and Lost Kingdom
A former Scientologist examines why she entered the church and then left it. Hall didn’t intend to join with the Scientologists, but when she fell in love with a man who was deeply committed to the Church of Scientology, her resolve was slowly worn away. In this revealing memoir, the author explains her many conflicting emotions toward the religion before, during, and after her seven years as a Scientologist…Throughout the book, Hall interweaves the story of her family, particularly of her older brother, Oakley, a wild child and wilder adult who eventually took one risk too many and suffered permanent consequences. The author is sincere and open about why Scientology appealed to her, and she effectively uses Hubbard’s work to show the complexity and strangeness of thinking…Hall risks her friendships with Scientologists by revealing what she experienced, and her work serves as a significant behind-the-scenes look at this cultlike religion. Frank and edifying information on Scientology from a woman who experienced it firsthand. A good complement to Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear.