Unless you’ve been living under a rock all summer, you’ve probably heard someone going on about Emma Cline’s The Girls, her debut novel, which was part of a 3-book deal that reportedly earned her a $2 million advance. (Yes, you read that right.)
Let me tell you, there’s a reason a dozen publishers got into a bidding war over Cline’s manuscript. Aside from the fact that her writing is incredibly powerful, visceral, she’s also chosen a fascinating subject, considered from an unexpected angle.
The Girls is narrated by an average 14-year-old named Evie (ha!) who finds herself drifting away from her boring suburban life toward a Manson-style cult, complete with a charismatic leader and plenty of young women to obey his every command, even when his orders include murder. But what’s most fascinating about the book is not the group’s slow decline from happy (even if malnourished) hippy commune to drug-fueled, self-righteous violence. It’s the emphasis on the relationships of the “girls” in the story. And girls they are, not even close to fully formed women. They are insecure, awkward, attention-seeking, and confused in a way that is so unbelievably relatable.
We see Evie graduate from her childhood friend Connie (whose presence in her life is so predictable that Evie can disappear for days on end “to Connie’s house” without question) to the ranch’s mysterious Suzanne, a 19-year-old just mature enough, jaded enough, and disinterested enough in Evie to win her total admiration.
That was the first time I ever saw Suzanne—her black hair marking her, even at a distance, as different, her smile at me direct and assessing. I couldn’t explain it to myself, the wrench I got from looking at her. She seemed as strange and raw as those flowers that bloom in lurid explosion once every five years, the gaudy, prickling tease that was almost the same thing as beauty. And what had the girl seen when she looked at me?
There it is: the self consciousness, the intense emotional response that characterizes girls’ teenage years and The Girls.
When my bookclub got together to dissect The Girls last week, we found ourselves touching on themes ranging from femininity to feminism, teenage angst, parental oversight, sex ed, our own early sexual encounters, and even the lure (especially for teenagers and young adults) of a movement bigger than you, whether it be Manson’s cult or Isis.
Although there were themes in the story that left me feeling like I needed more from the author, Cline’s writing is mesmerizing and the story offers so much to discuss. If you haven’t picked up a copy of The Girls, it’s time to read and discuss with your besties. I seriously couldn’t put this book down!
Still not sure? Get a load of these reviews!
Spellbinding . . . A seductive and arresting coming-of-age story hinged on Charles Manson, told in sentences at times so finely wrought they could almost be worn as jewelry . . . [Emma] Cline gorgeously maps the topography of one loneliness-ravaged adolescent heart. She gives us the fictional truth of a girl chasing danger beyond her comprehension, in a Summer of Longing and Loss.—The New York Times Book Review
Debut novels like this are rare, indeed. . . . The most remarkable quality of this novel is Cline’s ability to articulate the anxieties of adolescence in language that’s gorgeously poetic without mangling the authenticity of a teenager’s consciousness. The adult’s melancholy reflection and the girl’s swelling impetuousness are flawlessly braided together. . . . For a story that traffics in the lurid notoriety of the Manson murders, The Girls is an extraordinary act of restraint. With the maturity of a writer twice her age, Cline has written a wise novel that’s never showy: a quiet, seething confession of yearning and terror.—The Washington Post
Have you read The Girls? What did you think??
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