It’s amazing to me that Emma Cline is a first time novelist. Her skill of transporting the reader into the world she created is nothing short of astonishing. Her story of a girl on the cusp of becoming a woman, obsessed with the idea of busting away from her normal life, draws you in bit by bit until you’re fully submerged into the mind of Evie Boyd.
Her novel explores the psyche of young girls who are desperate to be seen, be loved, and be someone that would incite envy in those around her, with such depth and raw emotion that Evie ceases to feel like a fictional character.
The poetic way she describes the setting of her story, from the run down house, to the energy that pulses through the air, permeating those surrounded by it, creates such a vibrant sense of inclusion for the reader into the strange new world Evie explores with a greedy and desperate need for acceptance.
Evie is fourteen and detrimentally self conscious. Constantly hoping and searching for even the slightest bit of feeling of self worth, she finds herself taken by the sight of a girl whose demeanor speaks of confidence in a way that Evie could only hope to emulate. One night when Evie finds herself alone on an empty road, a van pulls up to offer her some help. Evie is thrilled when the girl she had seen days earlier and had only a brief exchange with that she has obsessed over ever since steps out and invites her into their world. Evie is immediately drawn to the group of girls, so unlike those in her normal life, but she is mostly drawn to Suzanne. Evie begins to analyze every look, movement, and word that escapes Suzanne’s mouth, searching for a way to get closer to her. When they arrive at the ranch, she meets the rest of this group of people who shun modern life and embrace the teachings of their beloved leader, Russell, and despite its run down appearance and shabby collection of possessions, she finds the place magical. The attention she recieves from those at the ranch, especially Suzanne, begins to make her feel like the gaping hole inside her that is aching to be filled with a sense of belonging and being wanted is made full and whole again. She begins to spend the majority of her time there, only going home every so often to keep her mother from becoming suspicious. Her activities at the ranch become increasingly intimate, and her need for Suzanne’s approval informs her every word and action. Even though at times she is asked to do things that make her feel uncomfortable, the urging and involvement of Suzanne during these times allow her to push past her fear and feed her desperate need to make Suzanne love her.
As the summer rolls on and Evie is fully immersed in the ranch, things start to become complicated. Suzanne’s cooling manner towards her leaves her aching for the connection she thought they shared. As their leader Russell begins to unravel, so does the ranch, and everyone that lives there. Evie is forced to leave for a matter of weeks after her parents become aware of her delinquent behavior, and when she returns, the grand welcome back she expected was nowhere to be found. Suzanne, Russell and the others are obsessed with the idea of revenge on Mitch, a popular recording artist who had once been a frequent visitor of the ranch denies Russell’s request for a record deal, which he and the others take as an act of betrayal. Evie is crushed by Suzanne’s nonchalant reaction to her return and Evie once again begins to feel like an outsider. However, she finds herself feeling differently about the ranch after her time away and she begins to see it as the filthy, run down, place it is; the enchantment that it had cast on her during her time there before starts wearing off, allowing her to see it for what it truly is. Despite the unease she feels, she is still desperate for Suzanne’s attention, which is wholly concentrated on Russell and his increasingly manic behavior that Suzanne herself has begun to exhibit. Fearing that her connection with Suzanne has been severed, she asks to go with Suzanne and the others when they announce they are going to exact their revenge on Mitch. Fearful of their intentions, Evie remains in the van until Suzanne suddenly kicks her out. Evie is heartbroken by this and finds her way back to her father’s house. Even though she doesn’t know what took place when the group arrived at Mitch’s house, she knows enough to be fearful of what may have happened.
As she learns of what Suzanne and the rest of the group she had been traveling with had done that night, she is afraid that her knowledge of what happened may put her in danger. She is caught between her emotions of fear and her longing towards Suzanne. Evie is able to go about her life normally and starts attending the boarding school she was meant to start at the end of summer, and is even able to make friends, but she is still tormented throughout the years by her curiosity of what would have become of her had Suzanne not kicked her out of the van that night. As the news and tabloids, and eventually the trial, sensationalizes the acts of Suzanne and the others, and the ranch as a whole, Evie tries to live her life normally, but the time she spent with Suzanne, Russell and all the others at the ranch leaves a lasting mark on her she is never quite able to erase. Now that she finds herself middle-aged and alone, she begins to wonder if her life was made better or worse by the events of that particular summer, and constantly wonders what her life had been like had she never met Suzanne and followed her to the ranch.
The Girls is a truly gripping, emotionally stirring, and fascinating story told incredibly well by the author, Emma Cline. Her unique style of writing and the expert way she weaves a dark tale of love, obsession, and how peer pressure can lead one down a dangerous path, keeps the reader in the same kind of trance Evie found herself under during her time at the ranch. Emma Cline will no doubt have a successful career if she continues to write with the same fervor that lead her to write The Girls.
This type of story may not be for everyone, but it is a great book none the less, and I fully recommend it. It explores a lot of dark themes, so be prepared for the unfiltered lens this story is told through, and the obvious parallels it draws to the similar story of the Manson family and their actions.
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Coming soon: Interview with Best-Selling author Ann Brashares, and review of her new book The Whole Thing Together.