Really, doesn't every teenager feel as though they're shaking off a lifelong brainwashing campaign? I'm not even talking about the rebellious teenagers who fall in love with a philosophy that's diametrically opposed to their upbringing, be it punk or anarchy or Ayn Rand. Most teenagers experience a moment where they finally notice a glaring inconsistency in some belief they've always taken for granted. It's the moment when the whole world comes crashing down around you like a shoddy set at a school play. Karen Finneyfrock's new young-adult novel, Starbird Murphy and the World Outside (Viking, $17.99), is a story about that experience.

"Outsiders will use any excuse to try to demoralize us," a young woman named Starbird Murphy explains to us early in the book. Why do outsiders care so much? "Their greed-driven, capitalist system is threatened by our commitment to shared property." Starbird belongs to a hippie cult based on a farm outside Seattle. (How hippie are they? They're so hippie that the founder of the cult named himself EARTH. Yes, in all caps.) Members of the Free Family Farm don't believe in property—the children are raised communally—and most members aren't even allowed to handle money, for fear it will corrupt them by osmosis. At the beginning of the book, Starbird, who describes herself as a true believer, is sent to work at a restaurant run by the Family in Seattle, and she fears what will happen to her belief system at the more permissive outpost, where she'll be required to attend a public high school for the first time in her life.

It's clear Finneyfrock has done her homework. The narrative is obviously buttressed with intensive research into cults and communes, and the Family's history is convincing and detailed...

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