Pick of the Summer: The Girls

Since joining the fairly new app for bibliophiles, Litsy, I’ve broadened my reading horizons a bit. I’ve tried a few books I normally wouldn’t have picked up (The Martian, Me Before You, and a few others not reviewed on this blog), and I’ve developed an ever-growing list of quotes, insights, and reviews about books I’ve devoured.

The app is wonderful. Think Instagram-meets Goodreads-meets Twitter. You can add books to “stacks” (to be read, or already read), write 451-character reviews (because Ray Bradbury, of course), and add photos and quotes from those marvelous book things that your friends on Facebook might not appreciate but your pals on Litsy surely will.

Anyway.

I saw numerous posts this summer from this vibrantly colored novel with a trippy cover and a simple but memorable title: The Girls, by newcomer Emma Cline. I was both repelled and drawn to the cover — the colors and Warhol-esque imagery are way outside my book-cover-judgement comfort zone. After seeing numerous posts with (mostly) rave reviews on Litsy and finding the hardcover on sale for $15 at a local bookstore, I decided to dive in.

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This photo seems super appropriate for a summer pick: jammies, run-tanned legs, and lots of cushy pillows to recline against. *Big teacher sigh*

The Girls kicks off with some beautiful, if not unconventional, prose. Cline writes in short, sometimes choppy sentences, a feature that several reviewers have touted as a turn-off. Normally, I’d agree: I can’t stand choppy prose. In this case, though, I thought her snippet-y sentence fragments worked. The prose was vivid and it felt very in-the-moment, which made my connection to the storyline that much easier.  

In the first several chapters, Cline had so many quotable passages. I salivated over lines like —

“I waited to be told what was good about me. . . . 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.”

and

“I was quiet, trying to imagine how that would feel: to be so known to someone that you had almost become the same person.”

This writing nuggetry continued over the 300-some pages that comprised The Girls, and I really had to hold myself back when it came to posting on Litsy.

The novel has a feminist feel to it, but not an in-your-f***ing-face vibe. It feels like an honest, raw exploration of the evolution of girl. The story follows a fourteen-year-old named Evie, who is living in California in the late 1960s. Her parents are split, supervision is minimal, and everyone is vibin’ — after all, it is 1969. Evie is the epitome of a blossoming teenage girl: filled to the brim with curiosity and a desire to belong to someone, or somewhere; overwhelmingly insecure and in need of approval; naturally curious about her sexuality and place in the world. These characteristics create the perfect storm for young Evie, who quickly finds herself lured into a cult of grungy, oversexed girls and young women, led by the simultaneously enigmatic and charismatic Russell.

Evie is quickly drawn further into the world of the cult members, who seem to live “honestly” and without the burden of societal norms. Her previously-wholesome life takes a turn down a dark, twisty road of drugs, sex, and identity crisis. While the bulk of the novel centers on Evie’s storied past, these parts are flashbacks; readers are exposed to “modern-day” Evie only a few times in the book, and she seems to be a perfectly confused and guilt-ridden product of her chaotic brush with the wild side.

The novel reads like a spin-off of the Manson murders, which take place the same year. Having had little exposure to the Manson cult’s storied past, I conducted some light research as I read and found many parallels between the characters of the book and the infamous figures of Manson’s murder spree. Some criticized Cline for this parallel; but I chose to focus more on the tale as a representation of the complexities that arise on the path to becoming a woman, and as such, was extremely satisfied with the novel. Also, given my limited knowledge of the time period or murders, I thought the parallel was intriguing and made for a quickly-paced read.

The Girls is a page-turner filled with stark nuggets of truth about the struggles of being a young girl in the 1960s (and 70s, and 80s, and 90s, and so on). My chest began to ache as I followed Evie’s tale and recalled my own floundering efforts to discover myself as a teenager; while I couldn’t relate to the chaotic, drug-infused lifestyle Evie experienced, I could connect to her feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy, and desire — to belong, to be loved, to be woman.

Rating: 5/5 stars, highly recommended.

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One thought on “Pick of the Summer: The Girls

  1. I’m reading this sometime this year. Might save it for winter when I need a good powerhouse read. I’m currently reading 11/22/63 that you gave me for my birthday (that was too much suitcase space for Spain) and only 60 pages in. The stages of my reading thus far: omg this book is too long; oh great a lonely high school english teacher – he’s going to kill someone; what does any of this have to do with 63 – are we in 1963 – yes – no – this is current – no its 1963 – Oh no! Its current; so what does any of this have to do with 1963; getting creepy; what the hell; what the HELL; WHAT THE HELL IS THIS BOOK? So yea. that’s where I’m at. I love your book recommendations. 🙂

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