The Girls by Emma Cline
Out in stores today, The Girls is one of the summer’s most anticipated releases. Emma Cline received a $2 million advance for her debut novel and it is one of those books that everyone is talking about. I was lucky enough to get a galley of the book and also met the author briefly at Book Expo this year. Here is my review…
The Girls by Emma Cline:
First published: June 14, 2016
Reviewed by Jen:
Rating: 3 stars
Find it/buy it here: The Girls
The Girls is loosely based on the Manson girls who brutally murdered Sharon Tate and her friends in 1969. Evie is a fourteen-year old girl whose parents have divorced. Her father is a womanizer who left her mother for his much younger secretary. Evie lives with her mother who is constantly striving to find love and acceptance in the arms of her latest boyfriend. Evie feels alone and alienated from her family and friends. After an incident that alienates her from her one close friend she finds herself drawn to a group of outcast girls. Longing to find a place to fit in, Evie becomes more and more enamored with this group of girls. She starts following them around and immersing herself in their mysterious group. The novel alternates between two time periods: 1969 and present day where Evie is an adult. Evie the adult reminisces about her teenage years with the commune girls while recognizing some of the same traits in a young girl she encounters as an adult.
It’s not an exaggeration when I say that I really, really, really wanted to love this book. I got caught up in all the hype and I was convinced that it would be my favorite book of the year. Instead, I was left feeling like a lone island floating in a sea of unending praise. Don’t get me wrong, I thought the book was good and extremely promising for a debut novel, but it wasn’t close to my favorite novel of the year.
In many ways, The Girls reminded me of Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. It had the same dreamlike tone and psychological focus. However, for me, Jeffrey Eugenides did it better and I preferred his writing style. Emma Cline does do a good job capturing one potential pathway into why a young teenager may be drawn to a cult. Evie’s longing to belong and her incredible sense of alienation bleed through the pages, and as the reader you feel incredible sympathy for her. Cline is incredibly savvy at portraying the inner life of a young adolescent from the 1960s/70s. Her characterization feels incredibly genuine and nuanced.
People looking for an exciting, action-packed exposé on the Manson family and their motivations in killing will be disappointed. The book is loosely based on the Manson family but its focus is not on the killings or the violence. Its focus is on the relationship between the girls and the desperation to fit in and feel accepted. It is a psychological novel not an thriller or action-filled novel. For me, this was a strength of the novel. I am much more interested in the psychological underpinnings that the details of the gruesome event. Overall, I did think it was very well written although Cline has a tendency to use fragments, A LOT. It’s a style that often works but also prevented me from truly connecting with some of the themes within the novel.
Most significantly, for me, is that I didn’t really connect with the other girls in the “family” and therefore I felt like some major questions were left unanswered. I had a good sense of Evie and why she longed to join the group but the understanding of the other women kept slipping through my fingers. Similarly, I didn’t quite get the sections with Evie as an adult interacting with the teenagers. Cline was likely trying to draw parallels between the two time periods to highlight similar themes of belongingness but I didn’t find enough substance in these small interjections for it to be truly successful.
What is clear, is that many people love this novel and I encourage you to check it out for yourself. All early reviews that I have read have been glowing — making me feel like I’m missing something. I do think Emma Cline has great promise as a novelist and I think the topic will be very appealing to many. I believe the movie rights have already been sold and it will probably make a great movie.
Want to try it for yourself? The book goes on sale today. You can find your copy here: The Girls.
We want to hear from you! Do you plan on reading The Girls? Have you read it? What did you think?
I’m really interested in this book, but I did wonder if it would live up to the hype! Great review, even if it wasn’t your favorite book. I felt similarly about Rush Oh but had a really hard time articulating why I didn’t love it.
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Thanks! I do hope you try it though. I seem to be in the minority since most reviews are glowing. Too bad about Rush Oh
I am well into this book and liking it more than you did, however I think your review is spot on. I honestly feel like the way this book is being marketed is just wrong. Because I read your review, my expectations were very different. To me, this book is a coming of age novel, and in that context, I love it. If a reader goes in expecting a book dissecting a cult or a thriller about murder, that is just a setup for dissatisfaction. The prose is an issue. I really like it and think it fits the narrative, but I can see why the fragments are going to make a lot of people insane.
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I am glad you are enjoying it. I do think the strength is her ability to get inside the head of an alienated teenager.