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For many readers, I’m sure The Girls will be the kind of book to inhale in one sitting. It’s dark and gritty in a way only stories about teenage girlhood can be. Cults, murder, underage sex—it has the kind of seedy underbelly that draws casual summertime readers like flies.
Cline’s novel is fictionalized but, as I understand it, adheres closely to the details of the Manson murders. Main character Evie is transfixed by Suzanne, a girl who embodies a reckless and risky lifestyle that Evie finds simultaneously dangerous and compelling. In a lot of ways, The Girls follows the conventional “bored teenager looks for meaning in all the wrong places” arc, but because of the way we know the book will end—with the girls committing a heinous crime at the behest of their charismatic leader, Russell—the stakes are a lot higher.
Maybe I’m getting sensitive in my old age, but I had to take a lot of breaks while reading The Girls. It’s just so…raw. I really wanted to know how it all wrapped up, but every so often I’d reach a point where I couldn’t handle another minute in Evie’s tortured brain. Cline gets teenage girls inside and out—what it feels like to be one, and how they’re viewed by the men and boys around them. It’s the biggest achievement of the novel. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read that portray teen girls as jaded mystics with unlimited power to seduce and destroy with a mere flip of their hair. I don’t know where all those authors went to high school, but it clearly wasn’t in the same universe as the one I lived in when I was 14. The truth, which Cline obviously knows, is that teenage girls are about the least powerful people in the world. They might benefit from the fleeting bloom of youth, but that is the only currency they have, and it’s cheap currency at that, when it can be taken by force by anyone who decides they want it. Evie wants to feel powerful even though she knows all power is just a smokescreen, and attaching herself to Suzanne and, by extension, Russell, she can trick herself into believing she has it.
The Girls isn’t a perfect book. One quibble I had was with the present-day storyline, in which Evie is an adult reflecting on her time with Suzanne. I recognize those scenes added insight into Evie’s psyche and enriched some of the themes (particularly guilt, and the nagging question of what monstrosities we might be capable of committing), but for me, they bogged down the action and were too over-the-top depressing. If there had been a big revelation or confrontation, I might have been on board by the end, but instead it just fizzled, making me wish I’d been able to read only the younger Evie’s story and draw my own conclusions. Despite that, I’m certain The Girls will be one of the most talked about books of this summer (hell, it already is), and fittingly, I predict it will develop its own cult following.
With regards to Random House and NetGalley for the advance copy. On sale June 14.