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.
The Girls by Emma Cline is certainly a wonderfully crafted novel, transporting the reader into the rapidly changing world of 1960’s America, and its radical ‘free thinking’ which created a new kind of living for many.
The characters are all wonderfully crafted; you can really see and understand how Evie becomes so wrapped up in the world of Russell and his ‘girls’. Though she is actually quite irritating at times, and I sometimes just wanted to shout at her for being so stupid or childish, the writing makes you see how and why it happens, so you can forgive her a little. The pull of what is obviously a cult is so strong that she can’t resist, despite the sub-standard living conditions and largely unpleasant nature of many of the girls – who are also pleasingly fleshed out people. Though Evie is infatuated with Suzanne, we can see some of her true colours whilst also understanding that Evie can’t resist her.
The story is quite slow moving, but it moves along at a perfect pace, allowing the reader time to realise what Russell and the others are really like but also leaving a lot of mystery surrounding them. The story jumps back and forth between the present day, with Evie as an adult, and 1969 when Evie was an easily-influenced 14 year old – though she still seems this way as an adult, to some extent! Her past experiences don’t seem to have taught her to be less influenced by strong characters, and she still seems to be guided or told what to do by people who are, really, just teenagers.
The writing is really superb – at times there are a little too many metaphors and similes packed into the pages for my liking, but overall I was blown away by the writing. The Girls is certainly an evocative and beautifully written summer read – definitely recommended!