The Girls by Emma Cline

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It’s the Summer of 1969, and Evie Boyd is 14. As her mother is caught up in her own drama and Evie’s best friend ditches her to hang out with another girl from school, she is at a loss for how to spend her long, endless Summer. She is also desperate to be included and to belong.

Which is why when she sees the girls, with their long hair and dusty clothes, Evie is drawn to something about them. Most especially Suzanne, their unofficial leader. Their freedom, their confidence, and their aura of difference. But the bond she will form with them will change her forever. Because the 60’s were not only a time of free love and communes. It was also an era of dangerous cults.

On the one hand, this book is a very insightful and heartfelt coming of age. Emma Cline manages to capture the boredoms and frustrations, as well as the drama of being fourteen so beautifully. But what she also captures is the innocence and the desire to belong to something that also are a part of that time, an innocence that can be so easily preyed upon or corrupted. On the other hand, she explores the way in which the women in cults are drawn in and why they might makes the choices that they do. Parallels to the Manson family are easily seen in this book, and while you may look at those women and think they are fools or simply evil, here we see it from the other side. How charismatic a leader can be, how the cult brainwashes you, how devotion to an ideal or a person can mean everything when you have nothing to return to.

Never sensationalist, always empathetic, this book really understands the psychology of these young women, and of female relationships. At times it’s dark, and it’s often very sad. As an adult reading this, you have so much more insight than the young Evie, and sometimes that’s heartbreaking. And yet, we also know adult Evie in this story, as she looks back, and is eternally broken by the events of this story.

I have to say, it wasn’t an easy read, but I did kind of love this book. We so often don’t see the other side of stories like these or the people are reduced to simple phrases or concepts, made one dimensional. Here we see the girls, in all their darkness and beauty, in all their strength and terrible weakness. We can see why Evie wants to be one of them and why her craving to belong is so dangerous. We can see the inevitable and bloody outcome, and we can’t look away.

Read It If: as a person who finds people fascinating and likes true crime, I couldn’t put this book down. It’s not a cheerful read, but it’s intelligent and thought provoking.

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