Rating: 4 / 5
Emma Cline’s The Girls is a trippy yet grave story about a lonely young girl’s journey to getting wrapped up in the most famous cult of all time. This story is completely fictitious, but is inspired by the real-life Manson Family.
Note: If you’ve never heard of the Manson Family, do not google it! Not knowing what’s going to happen makes the book even more exciting.
Evie is a quintessentially confused and self-conscious pre-teen. Her parents are divorced, and her mother spends more time focusing on her appearance and various dates with men than on parenting her child. Evie and her best – and only – friend have a falling out, so when she sees a group of girls one summer afternoon that look tight-knit and carefree, she feels that she must know them and be friends with them.
Evie runs into Suzanne, one of the members of the enticing posse, at a gas station in town and becomes entranced by her confidence, care-free air, and apparent part of a “we” – a sense of belonging.
In a continual effort to prove herself worthy of Suzanne’s attention, Evie finds herself in the thralls of a cult – although she won’t identify it as such until time and distance give her proper perspective. The leader of the cult, Russell, is a charismatic man with a love for music and – apparently – young women.
Evie spends a drug-induced, dirty, desperate summer at the commune, attempting to win the affections of Suzanne. How far will she go to be part of this dangerous “we”?
Please take caution when reading The Girls if any of the following topics may trigger you:
- Drug use
- Sexual depictions
The Girls is fantastic and on such an interesting topic. If you like true crime, you should like this. Although it is inspired by the Manson Family, the story is centered around the women within the cult, their relationships, and their obsession with Russell and the tasks they complete on his command.
Cline is a very gifted writer – I can’t believe this is her first book! The novel is very introspective from Evie’s point of view – she’s so self-conscious and self-centered that this makes perfect sense. The writing is beautiful, descriptive, and challenging. There is no shortage of difficult-to-digest sex scenes, which may put some readers off, but which I understand as integral to the reader’s understanding of Evie’s coming-of-age and the exploratory nature of young women – especially young women with mothers like Evie’s.
Throughout the novel, Cline switches between Evie’s experiences as a young woman during the summer of 1969 and as a 30-something in the thralls of mundane middle age. This adds an alluring level to the story – it’s very interesting to see how she came out on the other side of her stint in the cult, as well as how she perceives that time in her life.
The Girls is very unique and perfect for the time period it’s set in. Hard drug use is described with an air of extreme ordinarity. Evie’s non-heterosexual feelings for Suzanne are never discussed through the lens of heterosexuality as normal and anything else as “other”. In fact, Evie’s sexual orientation is never discussed or named. This was a breath of fresh air and something that I found to be quite poignant.
All in all, I loved The Girls. It was exciting, challenging, darkly interesting, and perfectly introspective. I was able to empathize with and pity Evie throughout her experience, even while she was making obviously stupid decisions. I recommend this novel to lovers of true crime and of relatively effortful reads.
I so appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts on The Girls. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the novel in the comments or at my Instagram, @bookmarkedbya.