The Girls by Emma Cline
Reviewed by Yvonne and Laura
This story follows Evie, a girl who is obsessed with the residents of a nearby ranch. Evie is basically left on her own her final summer before she is sent to boarding school. She notices Susan dumpster diving behind a local restaurant and then later bumps into her at a convenience store. Pretending to steal toilet paper for Susan, but actually paying for it, Evie is invited to ride with the group back to the ranch. The ranch is a commune of sorts, everyone does their share of the chores, but nothing ever seems to get done or actually be clean. Children are raised by the entire community but actually run free. It’s a group of hippies all mesmerized by their leader, the charismatic Russell. As Russell’s displeasure over a supposedly promised record deal continues to not materialize the girls at the ranch begin to plot revenge.
Yvonne’s opinion: Why does everyone love this book so much? I get that it was loosely based on the Manson murders, but I just didn’t see the motivation behind the hideous acts. One day everyone were happy hippies and then BOOM! I didn’t see the build up from commune to cult to murderous band. And the storyline of Evie in the present was jarring in that it didn’t lend anything to the plot or our understanding of Evie. It was a well-written book, but I would say it was only okay.
Laura’s opinion: Cline is a gifted, literary writer. She expertly captures the awkwardness and burgeoning sexuality of a teen girl who feels disconnected from her family and friends and is looking for something or someone to make her feel special. Cline lovingly describes California in the late 1960s and particularly its denizens who are eschewing the social norms of the time.
Since the book is so clearly based on the Manson family, I had certain expectations about the characters and the story arc. It just didn’t come together for me as a reader. And perhaps that was a deliberate choice by Cline to frame certain characters in Evie’s past as toggling the line between good and evil rather than just being one or the other. Characters in Evie’s present- day narrative were more clearly defined to me. Overall, I was disappointed in this much-ballyhooed book.