Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Girls

Author: Emma Cline
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Type: e-book
Source: NetGalley
Publisher: Random House
First Published: June 14, 2016
First Line: "I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls."

Book Description from GoodReadsGirls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
 
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.
 
Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.


My Rating: 2.5/5 stars

Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House for providing me with a complimentary e-book copy in exchange for my honest review.

My ReviewThis book has had a lot of buzz and with its premise and vibrant 60's cover it's on the TBR (to be read) lists of many readers this summer. Normally this isn't a subject matter that I'd be drawn to - cults and Manson-like killings. Just not my cuppa tea. But with all the hype I was eager to see what this new author could bring to a very well known premise.

What I liked about this bookThe author really got into the mind set of Evie, a teenage girl who is struggling to find herself.  Her inner dialogue and actions seemed to be realistically portrayed for her age.  She's lost, lonely, naive and starved for attention. She's also impressionable which makes her easy pickin's for a group of laid back, confident girls who introduce her to their group which is lead by Russell, a musician with passion and charisma for his view of how the world should be. Readers will be shown why events in Evie's life make her vulnerable to Russell and Suzanne's charms.  Cline also vividly depicts the deplorable and often unsafe living conditions in the cult's camp.

What I didn't enjoy: Not a lot happens in this book.  Seriously.  Not until the last ten percent or so which is when what you've been waiting to happen finally happens - the crime. Up until then it's basic descriptions of day-to-day life in the camp and Evie's inner dialogue. I had to rely on my general idea of what a cult entails because not much detail is given to this specific group and how/why it was formed.

I also never felt like I got to know the cult members in any depth. I wanted to know what the other believers thought. How did Russell have such a hold over these people? Why did they do his bidding without question?  By allowing the story to only flow through Evie's commentary Cline loses the opportunity show her readers the motivations of other characters. I would have loved to get inside Suzanne's head to understand why she did what she did. And what about the cult leader, Russell?  He's barely even in the book so we don't get a chance to know him and how he became the leader of this group.  

I think part of my issue with this book stems from the fact that the book's ending is disclosed early on so there wasn't any big 'wow' moment to be had. Instead the story follows along as you'd expect because you already know Evie's future due to the secondary story line that follows Evie a couple of decades later (which was lackluster). And for a book that is, albeit loosely, based on the notorious killing spree I expected a big twist to be thrown in. We know Manson's story but I figured Cline would throw in something new to give this book its own vibrancy but sadly that was not to be. Instead, since we already know how things will pan out for Evie, we follow the course because there really wasn't much left to be told. This does not make for an exciting read.

I am in the minority (yet not alone) in my feelings for this book. It has received quite varied reviews with the majority singing its praises. While I found Cline's writing to be good (if even a little too overwritten at times) I can't say that she lived up to the hype surrounding her famous $2 million signing deal. In the end, I really struggled to rate this book.  While it had a good premise, interesting look into the mind of a struggling teenage girl Cline's lack of attention to the crime and other characters lead me to a lower rating.

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