Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

Captivating and original. An interesting reimagining of an infamous crime.

Emma Cline is an American writer and novelist, originally from California. She published her first novel, The Girls, in 2016, to positive reviews. The book was shortlisted for the John Leonard Award from the National Book Critics Circle and the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize.

Emma Cline tapped deep into my psyche and kept me hooked right up until the last page. The raw honesty of the protagonist, Evie Boyd, was addictive to read as she navigated puberty, close friendships, her parent’s recent divorce, and the growing awareness of her own sexuality. Evie is a bored, aimless teenager who joins a Manson-like cult in the summer of 1969 before being shipped off to boarding school. Anchored in the present day and reflecting on past memories, Cline’s scintillating prose transported me into Evie’s world of naive, yet incredibly candid observations, portraying an unsure girl whose self-esteem is measured directly through the lens of society and her immediate relationships. How girls feel pressured to prove their worth while boys are given free rein to discover themselves is a theme I found interesting and was echoed throughout the novel.

“I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you – the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”

Evie

The idea that women are expected to mask rather than reveal their true emotions in order to be accepted and approved of is evident in Evie’s musings—past and present—something she also clearly recognizes as a middle-aged woman. It’s also the driving force behind her teenage motivations after witnessing a group of carefree hippie girls in Petaluma Park dumpster diving for food. Their reckless, carefree attitudes appeal to her insecure, isolated existence. The leader of the group, Suzanne, quickly becomes the primary focus of a curious young Evie, who soon embarks on a slippery spiral to impress—stealing money from her mother to give to the cult; breaking into a childhood friend’s home—on her intense quest for a sense of belonging.

“If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicated yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you”.

Evie

I enjoyed Cline’s detail-focused writing style, although described as “overwritten, flashing rather than lighting” (The New Yorker), I strongly disagree. I found her voice unique, her descriptions vivid, and I couldn’t tear myself away from Evie, curious as to how central a role she’d play in one of the most brutal murders in recent history. Overall, I loved the book from the cast of morally ambiguous characters and romantic descriptions of late-60s California to the curious coming-of-age story and manipulability of human nature. I cannot wait to read Cline’s next novel—The Guest—soon to be published in June 2023.

5/5 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I recommend to readers who enjoy books about cults, coming-of-age stories, compelling female protagonists, electrifying prose, and dark psychological themes.

Published June 14th, 2016

Synopsis:

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, and 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.

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