Title: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.
I started reading this book at 1 AM and had to stop because the first couple of pages creeped me out so I decided to continue reading tomorrow, in daylight. Turns out, most of the book isn’t that scary, even though it’s inspired by the real life cult of Charles Manson and the murders his followers commited. The story deals with Evie’s life, meeting Russel’s followers, how easily she accepted their way of life and how much their influence changed her life. It’s easy to understand Evie, her insecurity and how much she wants to be part of something – anything.
I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. 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.
That was part of being a girl—you were resigned to whatever feedback you’d get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn’t react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they’d backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you.
The writing is beautiful; Cline writes normal scenes from teenage life with hints of horrible things that happen later. The book is full of creepy tension that reminds you, however calm the story may be at the moment, it’s not going to stay like that. Parts of the book are written from the perspective of middle aged Evie who is, decades later, remembering the time she spent with Suzanne and other girls.
I fielded Sasha’s questions about what they had been like in real life, those people who had become totems of themselves. Guy had been less interesting to the media, just a man doing what men had always done, but the girls were made mythic. Donna was the unattractive one, slow and rough, often cast as a pity case. The hungry harshness in her face. Helen, the former Camp Fire Girl, tan and pigtailed and pretty—she was the fetish object, the pinup murderess. But Suzanne got the worst of it. Depraved. Evil. Her sneaky beauty didn’t photograph well. She looked feral and meager, like she might have existed only to kill.
When I was reading the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that this is based on real events. That’s the reason parts of the book scared me so much – it’s fiction, but there are people who’s lives were very similar to this.
This is one of my favorite books of 2016 and I can’t wait to see what Emma Cline writes next.