The Girls – Emma Cline
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.
Review: This was my most-anticipated release of 2016. I didn’t read it until 2017 because I’m totally in control of my life and not a chronic procrastinator at all.
If you’ve read my reviews before, then you might know that I’m not a fan of “retellings,” but since this book is a retelling of the Manson murders, I thought I could get onboard with it.
Fourteen-year-old Evie is hitting puberty hard. In the summer of 1969, she meets Suzanne, an older girl who is everything that Evie wants to be. Suzanne is confident, charismatic, independent, beautiful. She’s constantly surrounded by friends and has no parents to order her around. Evie quickly develops a crush on Suzanne and is thrilled when Suzanne invites her to a remote ranch to meet her friends. As Evie’s obsession with Suzanne grows, she’s sucked into a world of drugs, crime, and eventually, murder.
“Girls are the only ones who can really give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved. They noticed what we want noticed.” – The Girls
First, Emma Cline is an extremely talented writer. I started putting sticky notes in my book to mark the passages that I liked, but I quickly gave up because I’d need to spend my life savings on sticky notes. The language is poetic and unusual. I reread whole pages multiple times because I haven’t come across many writers who have Emma Cline’s skills. I will eagerly gobble up whatever she writes next.
The novel’s narrator, Evie, is a spoiled brat, which might be a turn-off for some readers, but I think she’s realistic. She’s at an age where her body and her relationships are changing. She’s rebelling against her parents and craves approval from her friends. Even though she isn’t likeable, she’s a believable middle school girl. I could definitely see some ugly parts of my younger self in her. I think a lot of teen girls go through a stage where they desperately want to be noticed, but they’re so uncomfortable with themselves that any attention from their peers is painful. Evie is at that stage. She wants to fit in and stand out at the same time.
“You wanted things and you couldn't help it, because there was only your life, only yourself to wake up with, and how could you ever tell yourself what you wanted was wrong?” – The Girls
Remember when I said that I don’t like retellings? The reason I don’t like them is because they’re predictable, and that’s the problem I had with The Girls.
If you don’t know much about the Manson murders, you’ll probably enjoy this book more than I did. I’m a weirdo who knows way too much about Manson and his girls. For me, the layer of fiction that the author puts over the real events is too thin. I knew each character’s real-life counterpart. I knew the setting. I knew what would happen in the plot and why. While I was reading, I often found myself wishing that the book was either nonfiction or more fictional. I wanted it to deviate from the script more than it did.
Since the plot is predictable, I sometimes got frustrated with the pacing. This is literary fiction, so it’s slow and character-driven. The author tries hard (occasionally too hard) to make profound statements about women and growing up. The middle of the book dragged for me. I knew that murders were coming, and I just wanted to get to them.
So . . . I have mixed feelings. I really liked The Girls, but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. Maybe my expectations were too high? Still, I’ll happily read whatever Emma Cline writes next.
“Nobody thought until later that strangers might be anything but friends. Our love for one another boundless, the whole universe an extended crash pad.” – The Girls