Field Notes for Surviving a Family Cult: a Memoir
by Michelle Dowd

Shipping to the U.S. only. Please see our International FAQ for more information.


Also available at

A moving, heartbreaking, and inspiring true story of the author’s escape from an apocalyptic cult—and the deep understanding of the natural world that helped her find freedom.
My family prepared me for the end of the world, but I know how to survive on what the earth yields.
Read More

Published By Algonquin Books

Format Hardback


Number Of Pages 288

Publication Date 03/07/2023

ISBN 9781643751856

Dimensions 5.8 inches x 8.65 inches

"In chapters centered on the edible plants she was forced to forage to avoid starvation, Dowd (now an academic and journalist) charts her path to freedom with remarkable clarity."
Los Angeles Times

"Dowd’s heartbreakingly beautiful book works not only as a field guide charting the author’s young life and eventual freedom from the family cult that devoured her for so many years, but it also functions as a poignant, insightful field guide for life and how she found a path forward."

"Forager is a stunning memoir, which elucidates the terrifying beauty of the natural world in which Dowd is raised, set against a stark backdrop of religious extremism."
Law & Crime

"A harrowing, engrossing story of survival amid painful circumstances… Heartbreaking and difficult to put down, this book lyrically chronicles an impressive rise out of illness, poverty, and indoctrination… enthralling."
Kirkus Reviews

"Beautifully delicate illustrations and foraging tips also keep things bright. An inspiring and insightful tale of resilience in the face of adversity, this book is hard to put down.”

"Listen to me: get this book in your hands now and prepare to lose a couple nights of sleep because you won’t be able to put it down. Michelle Dowd indeed had a chilling childhood, but that’s not what will keep you turning these pages. It’s the lyricism of language and complex characters you can’t stop thinking about it. For anyone who’s ever felt lost, this book is for you. For anyone who’s ever loved, this book is for you. For anyone who has yearned to understand where they fit in the natural world, this is your guidebook."
—Jennifer Pastiloff, bestselling author of On Being Human

"On the surface, Forager is about dramatic circumstances most of us will never experience--growing up inside a doomsday cult. This unusual lens, however, also mirrors more universal questions, such as how to build meaning out of trauma, how to tell the stories of our lives even as those lives intersect with others', how nature is a healing force even as we participate in its destruction. Michelle Dowd takes on the real, sticky, human issues without easy answers or platitudes and with a voice that is fully her own."
—Gina Frangello, author of Blow Your House Down
"Dazzling in depth, chilling in its revelations, Michelle Dowd’s memoir of a cult childhood proves how a life designed to be holy often turns evil. Dowd forages childhood experiences in an effort to come to terms with a family’s errant divinity—a fanaticism that leads to religious violence. What saves her, ultimately, is her biblical relationship with the natural world. Expansive in scope, brilliant in its undertaking, Dowd sifts through a wreckage of memory to create a survival guide for the apocalyptic brutality of Christian extremism."
—Janisse Ray, author of Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
"Michelle Dowd's bounty of a memoir offers us not just a survival guide, but the most ingenious map for sustenance in both body and spirit during dark times. In a world that prefers singular goals and simple answers, Forager finds power and joy in sharp-eyed, keen-fingered wandering, and its vertiginous complexities will sustain you for years to come."
—Meredith Talusan, author of Fairest: A Memoir
"No matter who you are or where you’re from, Dowd will guide you by the hand into her beautiful and heartbreaking family forest to show with heroic vulnerability how you might glean life from both the flowers and the thorns of her own. This isn’t just a field guide for surviving a family cult, but a universal path through the dark and glorious wood of life itself. Forager is a forest in bloom, a stream on a sweltering day, a Polaris of hope, a masterpiece of storytelling and empathy. And when you step into the sunlight on the other side of this magnificent book, Dowd will have freed you right alongside herself."
—Drew Philp, author of A $500 House in Detroit

"This is a searing, soaring coming-of-age story that unfolds under the most unconventional of circumstances . . . Forager is a true testimony both to the resourceful child Michelle Dowd was and to the extraordinary woman she became."
—Hope Edelman, New York Times bestselling author of Motherless Daughters

Shipping calculated at checkout.