ARC Reviews, Book Reviews

Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline

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I knew once I read the synopsis for The Girls, I just had to read it.  Coming from a criminal justice background, I was intrigued by the fact that this book is modeled after the infamous Charles Manson case.  I knew I was going to be in for a wild ride…

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Author: Emma Cline

Genre: General Fiction

Version: eBook

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Source: NetGalley

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Book Synopsis:

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. 

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My Thoughts:

One day, while ridding her bike in the park, Evie sees a group of girls.  She watches the girls cross the park, intoxicated by their energy.  Little did she know that this chance encounter would change her life forever…

“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.”

At the impressionable age of 14, Evie is searching for the love and attention that she is not receiving at home.  It is no surprise that she would be drawn to Suzanne and the other girls…

She said that the place we were headed was about a way of living.  Russell was teaching them how to discover a path to truth, how to free their real selves from where it was coiled inside them.

The thing that I felt that Cline did so well here was her portrayal of cult culture.  I am not sure why, but there is something about cults and cult culture that is oddly fascinating.  I think it stems from the fact that a “normal person” looking in wonders how these people get sucked into these strange, and often sinister, groups.  Cline was really able to depict how cult leaders prey upon those who are “weak” and make them feel apart of a family.  These people are very charming and charismatic, so these “weak” individuals find themselves drawn to them like a moth to flames…

“You’ll love him,” she said.  “He’s not like anyone else.  No bullshit.  It’s like a natural high, being around him.  Like the sun or something.  That big and right.”

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Since this book is modeled after the infamous Charles Manson case, you may THINK you know how it all is going to pan out, but you may find yourself surprised.  I think it actually works better if you are a little familiar with the Charles Manson case going into this book, as it really adds to the tension and foreboding.   I had a pit in my stomach for the majority of this book, knowing how it was going to end and waiting for the “big event.”

The Girls is unlike any book I had ever read before.  It is very dark and seductive, often to the point of discomfort.  While reading parts of this book, I found myself almost feeling guilty for reading it.  It is very difficult to explain… You ever come across a bad accident and find that you cannot look away?  This book felt a little bit like that.  To say this book gave me an uneasy feeling would be an understatement.

There were definitely parts of this book that I enjoyed, but once I reached the end I had very conflicted feelings about this book.  Here are a few reasons why…

The writing through out the majority of the book suited the tone perfectly, however there were a few parts that the writing felt a little odd to me.  Like the writing was forced?   There were some passages I marveled at Cline’s eloquence, but other times her writing had me scratching my head.  I am not sure if this is due to the fact that this is a debut novel, or if I was not accustomed to her particular writing style.

The past and present timelines, for me, didn’t work particularly well.  I think it COULD have worked IF some of the events that happen in the present had any relevance to the plot… I couldn’t figure out if the author was trying to throw the reader off course, or there was some poor editing decisions here.

The ending was very abrupt.  I think it could have been handled a little differently with better effect.  This is not to say that I didn’t agree with how Cline chose to wrap things up for Evie, just that it all felt underwhelming.  It was like the entire book was a huge build up to a big finale, but the finale never comes.  I think had Cline given us more after “the night” it would have helped with the abruptness.  Maybe an epilogue?  I just didn’t feel a sense of closure for Evie.  How did these events effected her as she aged?

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Even though I had a lot of problems with the book, I did enjoy it and think it is a worth while read.  I think maybe this book was a little over-hyped for me, so it didn’t exactly live up to my expectations.

“Of course my hand would anticipate the weight of a knife.  The particular give of a human body.  There was so much to destroy.”

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My Rating:5-Star Rating System*3.5 Stars

*Big thanks to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

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About the Author:

emmaclineEmma Cline is from California. Her fiction has appeared in Tin House and The Paris Review, and she was the recipient of the 2014 Paris Review Plimpton Prize.

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34 thoughts on “Book Review: The Girls by Emma Cline”

  1. Really interested to read your review. I tried this and gave up about a quarter of the way through because I just couldn’t get on with the writing style. Which was a shame, because I had heard such good things about it! Not awful, I think it just wasn’t for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great review! I really enjoyed this book, myself – it was one of my favourites of last year. The subject matter is so interesting and I thought Cline’s portrayal of those particular events were great. A disturbing read for sure, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lovely review! I can see how the writing may effect a rating of a book. Some things just don’t work for certain books, like you mentioned the past and present. I’ve been wanting to read this book because like you, cult and cult culture are fascinating to me but I’ll most likely just borrow it from the library =)

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This review has me more curious than ever! I love the way you describe the mood of this book and agree about cults, fascinating. I have been on the fence about this one. It seems that a lot of readers find the ending to be off and had issues with the execution of the narration. But you have convinced me that this is still worth keeping on my list 😉

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  5. Fantastic review, Amanda! I’ve not read this one yet, but I really, really want to! And like Danielle said, your review has me even more curious! Glad to know I’m not the only one interested in cults and cult culture. I find it to be so intriguing. Hopefully the writing style and the past/present timelines won’t mess it up too much for me because I’m really hoping to enjoy this book when I read it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve had a few trusted blogger friends tell me it was one of their favorite books of 2016, so don’t let my review put you off! I think this book could have been a hit for me, but it just felt like it was missing something. Can’t wait to see what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. After hearing mixed things about this book, I enjoyed reading your review. I got a copy last year, but was afraid to pick it up with all the hype around it… I’ll definitely give it a go some time now I know what parts might be a turn off.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You know I loved this book, but I think you make some really valid criticisms. I would have preferred it if Cline hadn’t flip-flopped so much between the past and the present too. She could have bookended the story with bits from the present maybe, but I’m with you, in that I feel they didn’t add much. But I loved the ways she explored female adolescence and also the allure of the cult. Even though most of us wouldn’t be drawn into that situation, I could sympathise with Evie’s burning need to belong and to be part of something she saw as greater than herself and her world. There’s something thrilling about reading a story like this that takes you right to the edge of something so horrific, but then you get to close the book. It almost feels like you’re getting away with something, or akinga narrow escape. Fab review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “There’s something thrilling about reading a story like this that takes you right to the edge of something so horrific, but then you get to close the book. It almost feels like you’re getting away with something, or akinga narrow escape. ”

      I agree. Cline is definitely a talented writer, though at times I felt a little disconnected with it. I am not opposed to reading more of her work. I will definitely check into what she puts out next.

      Liked by 1 person

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