Slow moving but atmospheric.
The Girls tells the story of Evie Boyd, a lonely teenager living in the late 1960s. She’s awkward and mostly friendless, and has no strong familial ties as her mother is careless and barely around. She becomes infatuated with a group of girls a bit older than her that she sees around town and is enthralled with Suzanne, the confident leader of the group.
Soon her desire for friendship and inclusion draws her into the girls inner circle, who end up being members of a cult hidden in the hills of California. To outsiders it’s creepy and obviously predatory, but to Evie, a girl without a sense of place, it becomes the one place she calls home.
This book is somewhat based on the Manson family in the late 60s, and their stories parallel one another pretty closely. There’s oddly a lot happening in this book and then nothing at all. One of my biggest criticisms of this book is that while I emphasized with Evie and her lack of direction, the plot itself never seemed to have much direction I could hook onto. The biggest climax of the book, the infamous Manson murder, happens off screen as Evie isn’t there to experience it firsthand. In terms of character I understand why Cline did this but it honestly felt like a let down. If you’re vaguely aware of the Manson family, you know the book is building to this point and yet when the action cuts away, it feels like you’ve read 300+ pages into this for nothing interesting to happen. As readers, we are supposed to be the bystanders looking in on Evie’s life. However Evie herself is a bystander looking into the lives of those in the cult. Having a 300+ page story in which we are bystanders reading about a bystander does not make for a compelling piece. Whenever something interesting happens, it happens around Evie and not to her, so it’s hard to get wrapped up in the story and feel compelled to continue reading.
One thing Cline does do beautifully however is tune the reader in to the locations within this book. Ten pages in and I felt like I was in sunny 1960s era California. Cline has an exceptional grasp with language and while her flowery wording does sometimes detract (so many repetitive paragraphs could have been shortened) it does really evoke the smell and feel for where Evie is at any given point. I think with another round of editing, this book could have been much more interesting and compelling. As it stands, it’s a good portrait of a girl stuck no matter which direction she goes, but I wish it would have went deeper into the “why” surrounding the cult.
Title: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Three Descriptors: Atmospheric, Inspired by True Events, Flawed
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