Author: Emma Cline
Published: June 14, 2016 by Random House
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
Source: Library eBook
My rating: 4 1/2 stars
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.
There seems to be a theme in my reading choices in the last couple of months. For whatever reason cults and women’s experiences in cults are really interesting to me right now. The last book I reviewed, Troublemaker, is the true life story of Leah Remini and Scientology. This novel is a fictionalized story of a Manson style cult in the late ’60’s. The story is framed by the adult Evie remembering the events of that summer while staying at a friends isolated cabin in Northern California. She is joined by the friend’s son and his girlfriend which causes her to remember the events of that summer when as a fourteen year old girl she joined the cult.
This novel is intriguing, interesting, and disturbing. I felt a sense of menace and unease as I read the book. So if you are looking for a comforting read, The Girls is not it. So many books that feature women lately have featured women who are unlikable and do awful things. This novel fits into that Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train vibe. But it’s not a mystery or a thriller that needs to be solved. Anyone who is familiar with the Manson cult activities will know what happens in the story. What is different and interesting for me is the relationship between the girls in the cult. How they interact. Why they stay. Russell, the thinly veiled Manson figure, is less important in this story. Evie and Suzanne complicated connection is much more interesting. What is Evie looking for from Suzanne?
“I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles had taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you–the boys had spent time becoming themselves.”
And Evie is seen by Suzanne. I like how this story explores how girls do interact and acknowledge each other. It reminds me of how difficult it is to be a girl in this world. The cult, and more specifically, Suzanne give Evie what she needs as a young girl. And this made me so uncomfortable as a reader because I knew what was coming. And Suzanne’s menace is frightening too. It’s not often that women in a novel are just as menacing as the men. And rather than being fascinated by the bad boy or even Russell, Evie is drawn to the bad girl. The toxic stew of girl crushes, menace, and desire for acknowledgement makes this a fascinating read for me.
But the scenes that take place in the current day are less pleasing. I don’t enjoy reading about the teen characters that show up and prompt Evie’s remembrances. I don’t really like how Evie relates and behaves with those teens. And the ending is frustrating.
Would I recommend it? Yes. If you are interested in female characters behaving badly, cults, and girls struggling with coming of age then you will probably enjoy this book. I think it will end up in my top ten books of the year.
One more of my favorite lines from the book:
“I knew just being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe yourself.”
Have you read The Girls? What did you think of it? Are you planning to read it? Let me know what you think in the comments below.