Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Girls

The Girls by Emma Cline
Random House: 6/14/16
eBook review copy; 368 pages
ISBN-13: 9780812998603

The Girls by Emma Cline is a very highly recommended novel about girls in cults seeking acceptance and belonging. "Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get."

As an adult today, Evie Boyd is looking back at the summer of 1969 when she was 14 years old, awkward, lonely, and looking for a way to fit in and belong in Northern California. Her parents are divorced, and caught up in their own lives and desires. Her best friend may not be such a great friend after all. When Evie sees a group of girls walking through the park, carefree and confident, she takes note of them and wonders who they are. Evie runs into one of the girls again, 19 year old Suzanne, and is immediately drawn to her. Circumstances lead Evie to the dilapidated ranch in the hills where the girls are living in commune-like cult led by the charismatic Russell. The cult is based on the Manson Family.

Evie is drawn back to the ranch repeatedly, spending more days and nights there, implying to her mother that she is staying with her former friend. As the summer goes on, Evie finds herself obsessed with Suzanne. The ranch is a place where she feels acceptance and love. She is also intrigued and attracted by their daring existence and self-assurance. But eventually, the mood at the ranch darkens in ways Evie doesn't quite understand.

The Girls is narrated by Evie today, an adult woman looking back at this one period in her life that marked her passage into adulthood in a destructive way. Evie knows what happened and has had decades to reflect on why she was so gullible and enamored with the cult.

"There are those survivors of disasters whose accounts never begin with the tornado warning or the captain announcing engine failure, but always much earlier in the timeline: an insistence that they noticed a strange quality to the sunlight that morning or excessive static in their sheets. A meaningless fight with a boyfriend. As if the presentiment of catastrophe wove itself into everything that came before. Did I miss some sign?"

It is about the psychological harm young women can do to themselves in their quest to belong and find love and acceptance. This theme is reinforced by the interaction between the day young man and woman who show up at the vacation house where she is staying - the young man cocky and brazen, the young woman acting self-confident, but insecure and submissive to him. Anyone who has read about the Manson Family will immediately see that the plot is loosely based on them, although it is not a retelling of those murders.

Cline's writing is incredible, with keen insights into the psychology, thoughts, and behaviors of young women. It is addictively readable. I was so submerged into the plot and Evie's life, I lost track of time reading this brilliant, mesmerizing debut novel. What's had to believe is that this is Cline's debut novel - the writing is that precise and her insight into women and girls is that discerning. It's not always an easy book to read emotionally, but it is honest. Keep an eye on Cline.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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