Title: The Girls by Emma Cline
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Historical (1969), Mystery, Literary Fiction
Length: 370 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong—this stunning first novel is perfect for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’s 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.
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.
Loosely based on Charles Manson and his followers, The Girls by Emma Cline follows fourteen year old Evie Boyd and her involvement with a cult that commits a shocking mass murder.
The summer of 1969 is a tumultuous period in Evie’s life. Her parents are newly divorced and she is often left unsupervised as her mom tries to “find” herself and re-enters the dating scene. Her only friendship hits a rocky patch so Evie eagerly seizes the opportunity to impress Suzanne, a young woman she has admired from afar. Thoroughly captivated by Suzanne, Evie is soon spending all of her time at the derelict ranch where her new friend lives with Russell and his followers.
Despite her initial uneasiness, Evie enthusiastically embraces the ideology of the group and her days are spent in a drug and alcohol induced haze. Although slightly uncomfortable with Russell’s sexual attention, she is honored to be chosen by the charismatic leader. However Evie is less than enthused to be selected to “entertain” Mitch Lewis, the musician who is supposed to broker a record deal for Russell. Her night with Mitch marks the beginning of the end for Evie, who is confused by Suzanne’s indifference after their night with the musician. At the same time, Russell and his followers are in the beginning of a downward spiral that culminates in an act of horrific violence that haunts Evie for the rest of her life.
Although unhappy with her life at this point in time, Evie is not rebelling against society like the other people living on the rundown ranch. She is, however, in the throes of an adolescent crush on Suzanne and she will do anything to gain her attention and approval. Less than thrilled with the changes at home, Evie is easily seduced by the atmosphere on the ranch and the illusion of freedom. Already slightly disillusioned with her friend after their night with Mitch, she begins to see Suzanne’s darker side yet she cannot shake her fascination for the older girl. Of course, it is not long until Evie’s rose-colored glasses are rather violently ripped away yet even as an adult, her adulation for Suzanne still remains.
The Girls is a somewhat slow-moving story yet the novel is still incredibly fascinating. Emma Cline is a gifted storyteller whose descriptive prose brings the time period, characters and setting vividly to life. The characters are brilliantly developed and surprisingly sympathetic despite their heinous act of violence. A reflective yet highly intriguing depiction of how easily someone who feels disenfranchised, unloved and lonely can be drawn into a cult.