My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Girls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.
**Disclaimer: Copy received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review**
The Girls is the story of Evie, a 14-year-old recovering from her parents’ divorce and falling out with her best friend, Connie. The year is 1969, and soon she is enthralled by Suzanne, an older girl who lives at a rundown ranch in poverty, with a few other girls, all of whom worship one man, Russell. Based on the story of Charles Manson and the Manson girls, this is a hard-hitting book of a childhood filled with sex, drugs, and cult worship, and ultimately, murder. This isn’t just a story though – it is also a social commentary on the role of girls and the expectations flung upon them.
Emma Cline’s writing is beautiful, full of metaphors and insights that make this world so clear. This book is a little intellectual (definitely not Young Adult though told through a teenager’s eyes), and takes place in two timestreams – present day, where Evie is ambling along, imposed upon by a teenage couple who are up to no good, and California, 1969, when Evie was enthralled by a cult. The events of 1969 still clearly haunt her to this day, and so this story is really the one of her making – how her actions as a girl have impacted on her entire life.
This is the second Manson-based book I’ve read this month(!) – the other being My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger (review here) which is a YA book of a similar dark tone, but this time about a teenager researching the Manson girls. This book is a lot grittier (it is an adult novel, after all), and gets a little more into the action of this story, told by someone who was actually there.
The Girls is a dark summer read, dancing with sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll, and with flecks of a real-life horror that gripped America.