One hot summer day, fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd comes across a group of girls at the park who are unlike no others she has even seen. Dressed carelessly, dirty, searching through dumpsters for food, stealing from stores, Evie is immediately drawn to the girls. A lonely girl herself, she is envious of their freedom and the way they move through life with wondrous abandon. This is a group of girls she wants to be friends with.
Evie is quickly drawn into their circle through the care and attention of one of the older girls named Suzanne. Evie is mesmerized by Suzanne who gives her access to a world she never knew existed. She goes with them to the ranch hidden away in the hills of California that they live in and meets the groups charismatic leader Russell.
Evie truly believes that this is where she belongs, not back home with her parents who couldn’t care less and the friends who have turned against her. As she spends more and more time with this group, she desires to stay forever in a place where anyone can belong. But what Evie does not realize is that this group is on a course that will make them infamous for years to come and one which will end in heartbreaking tragedy.
The Girls, by Emma Cline, is a dark and haunting yet beautifully written debut novel. Loosely based on the Manson Family, it is the story of a disillusioned girl who is looking to belong and is swept up by an alternative group of people.
I picked up this book because it was on every single must read list of 2016 and you know when it is on every list, the chances of it being amazing are pretty high. Very quickly, I could see why everyone was talking about this book. The writing is absolutely incredible and Cline weaves a very good story. This is one of those books where most people will be saying “it’s hard to believe it’s a debut novel.” It feels as though Cline has been writing bestsellers for years.
In the beginning I wasn’t sure if I was going to like the book and that came down to what my expectations of the book were. I thought that this book was going to be more about the cult and the violence they committed and that was what I wanted to read about (going into the book I really wasn’t all that familiar with Charles Manson and the Manson Family other than knowing what they were famous for.) I wanted to understand the motivations of the group and the moments that led up to the crimes. That is a very small part of the book and definitely not the main focus. So the book felt like a long set-up to an event that gets very little page-time.
It took a long time for me to get past my expectations of the book but when I finally did I was able to see it for the beautiful and harrowing read that it is. It is hard to believe that Evie is only fourteen years old with the life she leads and the way she is able to get swept up into the group without her parents noticing or really caring. It is understandable though why groups like this are able to form, with charismatic people preying upon young people who are in search of something but aren’t quite sure what it is they are looking for.
I thought it was an interesting choice to have the book take place in both present and past. But I felt that the book could have been stronger if it either stayed in the past or if we got a little bit more of the present. I like that we are able to see how this one year at such a tender age affected her for the rest of her life. But it just seems like we weren’t given enough to fully understand how present-day Evie feels about who she was or what the group did. There are bits of that but I wanted either more or none at all.
This wasn’t a runaway hit for me, but it wasn’t a bad read either. I read through it pretty quickly as the writing flowed from page to page and it was easy to get lost in the story. But I was disappointed by the lack of story and was looking for a lot more from this book. That being said, I mentioned it to a co-worker who then read the book and loved it so much she went back and read Helter Skelter right after. She very much enjoyed this book so I don’t hesitate to recommend it to others. Just know that book is inspired by the Manson murders and not a fictional re-telling. I think the quality of this book is determined by the expectations we go into it with.
I received a copy of this book courtesy of Penguin Random House Canada. The opinions expressed above are my own.