The Girls by Emma Cline

Posted May 27, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

The Girls

The Girls

by Emma Cline

Publisher: Random House on June 14, 2016
Genre: Bildungsroman, Historical Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult, New Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.


As a full disclosure, I actually have another review on this blog for The Girls, and while I would usually just do a mini-review in these cases, that review was only three sentences and I think this book deserves a bit more analysis.

I think that The Girls was hugely over-hyped when it came out.  For some reason, our culture is still morbidly fascinated with the Charles Manson murders.  The Girls is loosely based on this event, following young Evie Boyd as she gets tangled up with a group of your women led by the mystical Russell who has a record coming out (probably by Christmas).  Hype made this book out to be more of a masterpiece than it is in a literary sense.  It’s still an interesting book, but it’s not quite of the “sell out all the bookshops” quality that it experienced at release.  Good for Emma Cline though, really.

The thing that bothers me most about this book is the pacing, and this is something I mentioned in my original review back in 2016the gait of this novel is extremely lopsided.  The first third drags and drags and drags until finally Evie connects with Suzanne and things take off.  The end of the book moves so quickly that you’re a little stunned when it abruptly comes to an end.  It left me with an unsatisfying taste that bothered me, leaving me wanting more even after I struggled to get into it in the first place.

Another place of possible contempt for the novel is Emma Cline’s writing style.  She falls solidly into the realm of purple prose that I, personally, enjoy.  However.  Her clipped sentences and flowery phrasing are a thing that would turn off many readers who prefer a direct and sensible approach to things, rather than wafting through a hazy summer afternoon.  I think approach in this case revolves around personal preference, but if nothing else, her abundance in visual language drags an already limping pace.

The story, though.  Once you get sucked into the story – and it takes a minute – you really get sucked in.  Evie’s time away from the ranch is filled with impatient monotony and even though the reader knows they are bad news… knows that Evie’s affections for Suzanne are not reciprocated… you’re anxious to get back to that place with its slow-building tension and gruesome end.  I wouldn’t say Evie or any of the other characters in The Girls are particularly likable, but they are endlessly interesting.

One thing I appreciated this time around was the evaluation of women’s roles in this time and the contrast to the present and how little inherently has changed in intimate relationships.  That parallels between Suzanne and Evie and Sasha and Tamar and Evie’s mother were so interesting, and the lines didn’t become clear to me until I neared the end of this re-read.  I don’t typically go into books looking for messages on society or deeper meaning – I’m there purely for entertainment – so this face of The Girls was something new, and that’s one of the pleasures I take in re-reading books.  Having just finished The Girls and discovered this, I sort of want to go back in and look for more commentary on repressed feminism and its consequences on personal, familial, and societal scales.  Next time!

Generally speaking, The Girls is not going to be for everyone.  It’s a piece of literary fiction that will appeal to those who like to dissect human nature, and will disappoint those interested in the Charles Manson story.  It’s a lazy read too slow for the breach, but too depressing and heavy for a cozy winter afternoon.  It’s a complicated book to recommend.  Despite my misgivings on the reread, though, I ultimately enjoyed it.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★★
Characters: ★★★
Writing: ★★★★ 1/2
Pacing: ★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★


The Girls Stays on my Shelf

When I averaged out my star ratings for this one, it came to a solid 3.75.  Since I rate in half-stars, I round this up to 4 because I think the effort of the authors deserves that extra push, you know?  But in regards to keep/don’t keep, this put me in a weird place.  4 stars, keep.  3.5 stars, donate.

The Girls is a strange one for me in this respect.  It’s very much a mood read, because it’s too slow and gloomy and awkward for a joyful random pickup.  But I am interested and fascinated by the story, enough so that my overall rating remained solid rereading it four years later.  Would I reread it again?  Probably.  Would I miss it when it was gone?  Probably not.

To be perfectly honest and a little shallow, I think that the thing here that pushed me over the edge to keeping The Girls was the fact I have a signed copy.  This wasn’t even something I went seeking – it was a book club read back in ’16 and the signed copy was all I could find!  There’s something special to signed books, and it’s led me to keep it with me… at least for a little while longer.


Are you interested in the Charles Manson story?  Do you ever find yourself picking up book closely inspired by real life events, even gruesome ones?  Let me know what good adaptations you’ve read in the comments!

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