Reviewed by Rachael J. Hughes
To the Moon and Back: A Childhood Under the Influence (Heliotrope Books, September 2018) is a riveting tale of a young woman’s survival in—and out—of a religious cult in the 1970s. Coming of age is hard enough—but to do so with conflicting beliefs in a rigorous religious setting is a prescription for disaster. As an adolescent, Kohn spends weekdays in bars with her dad and in a highly esteemed high school in “normal” New York. Yet her weekends are spent in a religious fervor, proselytizing to the citizens of New York about the “truth” of the Savior, Father Moon, a native of Korea, and his Blessed Family.
The conflict runs deep for young Lisa as she is confronted with normal adolescent desires—desires that the Church sees as wrong, as they do not even permit any sort of physical touch among the opposite sex. Subsequently, Lisa grows to believe that she and her feelings are wrong, despite a lingering feeling that normal teenage behaviors feel right to her otherwise. Kohn grew up in an unstable environment until her mother was entranced by “The Moonies,” a religious cult that grew and gained attention in the 1970s after the 60s revolution. Kohn’s mother brings young Lisa and her brother into the “Moonie” mindset, but ultimately disappears from her responsibilities as a mother. In doing so, she leaves her children to fend for themselves in the streets and bars of New York City, as their father, an addict and bartender, tries to parent them the best he knows how, which isn’t always best for young Lisa and her brother.
Kohn’s story is a constant search for what is right—and what is best for her, regardless of outside forces. The pressures of life, teenage years, and a strict religious following lead her to the brink of destruction, but somehow, a force perhaps greater than anyone’s perception of a god, leads her to self-salvation. It is a must-read story you will be unable to put down.