The Girls by Emma Cline


“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.”

I had quite a struggle within myself when deciding whether I wanted to read The Girls or not. On the one hand I love reading about the sixties, the Manson murders are such a defining moment of that era and I always like to read hot debuts, especially by female authors. On the other hand, I heard a really negative opinion of the novel from a colleague, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book inspired by such a dark event and I was afraid the hype would let me down. In the end, I gambled on reading the novel – and won.

The Girls takes place over several months during the summer of 1969 when Evie Boyd, a fourteen year old, gets involved with a Charles Manson-like family in Northern California. Evie’s parents are divorced and neglect her quite a bit, her best friend has dropped her and she is bored, lonely and vulnerable. Then she sees a group of ragtag, dirty, unkempt girls picking through dumpsters behind a restaurant and is fascinated. Especially with the girl who seems to be their leader. When this girl, Suzanne, eventually invites her out to The Ranch Evie becomes embroiled in their drug fueled, seedy, criminal lifestyle which is all overseen by Russell, a manipulative sociopath. Then her mother finally catches on and sends her to live with her father. Running away she spends one last night with Suzanne before the girls carry out an act of revenge for Russell that seals their fate forever.

Cline’s writing is mesmerizing and her ability to create atmosphere is impressive. Her short, strong yet hazy sentences and carefully chosen historical details really evoke the whole California in the sixties vibe. Most impressive, though, is the way she inhabits the head of a teen girl, a girl who is intelligent and observant but still prone to being influenced by those whom she admires and finds attractive – which is why she cares more about what Suzanne thinks of her than of what Russell does. I liked that the focus of the novel is not on Russell but on the young women who choose to follow him.

My only whine about this novel is that it is unrelentingly dark. It takes you on a very grim trip that was hard to stomach at times. I’m not afraid of dark novels so I carried on – and there really isn’t anything else this book can be. I just had to take a breather from time to time.

I found The Girls pretty much as great as all the hype has cracked it up to be – and I think Emma Cline is a fabulous writer.  She’ll be on my list of “writers whose books I will always read – or at least try” from now on.

Have you read or plan on reading The Girls?

12 thoughts on “The Girls by Emma Cline

  1. I’ve been trying to decide whether I want to read this or not for weeks! Since I just finished a fairly dark novel (Summer House with Swimming Pool), I’ll put it off a bit longer.


  2. I might well read this, but not now as things are horrendous enough in the UK at the moment. I need comfort reads!


    1. I completely understand and I’m so sorry about what’s happening. I think the situation definitely calls for a lighter tone than this provides!


  3. I loved this book, I found I had to stop a few times as well, because it was so dark. I think a lot of the time I was distracted by Evie’s desire to belong to not be as horrified as I would normally be at the outcome of that summer.


  4. I’m torn over this book. The subject matter is intriguing, the reviews I’ve read are great, but with everything that’s happening over here at the moment I need a different kind of distraction at the moment. Maybe one day …


  5. I’m back and forth too. If I am going to read it, I think it has to be soon, or else the hype train is going to be too far gone, and I’m not going to be able to enjoy it. :p I’ll see if my library has it in stock next time I go.


  6. So many people are talking about this on Twitter! Your review certainly encourages me, but I suspect I’ll never quite as far as picking up a copy. I don’t deal well with dark.


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