Note: I received an advanced digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
This is a story about a cult from the late 1960s that’s clearly based on The Manson Family, so there’s really no way to go wrong: the subject matter is inherently fascinating. It’s what Emma Cline does with her 14-year-old protagonist, Evie, that’s so stunning and impressive.
I’ve never in my life read a novel that so accurately depicts what it’s like to be a teenage girl: from the constant self-consciousness and self-analysis to the frenzied desperation to fit in and belong. In fact, I’m not sure male readers will be able to appreciate it quite so much, as it feels like a novel that was written distinctly for women. I highlighted so many quotes as I was reading it, but here’s one that exemplifies Cline’s talent:
“When I was that age, I was uncertain of how to move, whether I was walking too fast, whether others could see the discomfort and stiffness in me. As if everyone were constantly gauging my performance and finding it lacking.”
The ability to relate to Evie to such a strong degree just makes it that much more disturbing. As she walks the tenuous line of involvement with the cult, it’s easy to understand how and why she is drawn to it.
The story is told by middle-aged Evie, which makes it even more compelling, as we bare witness to her somber, introspective reflection on the summer that would change her life. Again, this is relatable: how uncomfortable it is for any of us to look back on who we were when we were 14. The mistakes we made, the decisions we can never take back.
All this said, The Girls is not without its flaws. There are parts that meander and distract from the more interesting subject matter, and it does feel somewhat anticlimactic. Ultimately, though, it’s an ambitious, beautifully written debut novel by an immensely talented young writer with stunning insight into the human condition. I’m excited to see what comes next from Emma Cline.