I’ll begin with a line from The Girls, when thirty-something year old main character Evie is thinking about a teenager in love she’s met and from whom she feels a familiar hunger: “Poor Sasha. Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get.”
The Girls is a new release from Emma Cline - her first novel. And it’s quite impressive. The story is loosely based on the Manson Family cult of the late 1960’s in California. It revolves around Evie Boyd, a 14-year old only child to divorced parents. Of some wealth and education, Evie is not particularly impressed with school, the other girls, nor with her mother’s boyfriends. She drifts into a friendship with Suzanne, who is wild, unencumbered, and has little care in the world. Suzanne is part of a “family” of sorts - a group of mostly teen girls, let by the enigmatic Russell. They live in poverty and filth, steal their food, and beg for anything else they need. They’re high most of the time - booze, pot, or any drug they can get their hands on. Capitalism is bad. Sharing and love is all that matters. And Evie is free to come and go as she pleases, but regardless of the environment, she prefers to be with Suzanne.
There is something about Suzanne that makes Evie feel as if she matters. She is self conscious, invisible, wanting, desperate for meaningful connection. With Suzanne, Evie becomes someone of significance - sweet Evie. So eager to please and belong. Finally, there is someone that truly knows her. Where they’ve come from and where they’re going doesn’t matter. And even as they lure her deeper into their deviant orbit, she feels it’s generally harmless, buying more and more into their distorted sense of justice.
The book is told from Evie as an adult, revealing the series of events in flashbacks to 1969. It movingly calls out the insecurities and insubstantial role many girls and women have borne. “I knew just by being a girl in the world handicapped your ability to believe in yourself.” But Cline does not at all present a feminist tome; simply a version of coming of age that crosses cultures, and doesn’t ignore the common threads we have, often continuing into adulthood.
Cline’s sensitivity and expression of girls and women is remarkable, considering she is a mere 25-years old. She provides a rare prescience along with a powerful writing style that had me paying attention to every word.
Publisher: Random House
Vickie’s rating: 4 stars