By Cat A.
1969, California. Fourteen-year-old Evie Boyd, the voice behind Emma Cline’s The Girls, invites readers to dip their toes into a pool of hippie vibrations, adolescent abandon, and a summer of violence.
It begins with Evie alone in a park. A group of older girls–long-haired, loosely dressed, and laughing–pass her by like dandelion wisps. They come and go, and it’s at this intersection where Evie begins to daydream of a summer beyond smoking weed in her best friend’s house and a life extraneous to coping with her parents’ divorce and licking batteries to feel something, anything.
Eventually, Evie follows the girls to a crumbling ranch in the middle of God knows where. There, feathers hang from tree branches and bonfires burn late into the night. People run free with kohl tattoos, flowers, and tinsel crowns, and cars are trashed for the hell of it. All of these are acts of freedom, Evie reasons, but little does she know that she is about to be initiated into an infamous Charles Mansonesque cult–a group whose story will be painted blood-red by newspaper headlines screaming murder in less than three months.
Emma Cline colors Evie’s story red too; every chapter in The Girls bursts with sex, drugs, manipulation, and teenage angst. But despite the cult’s disturbing rituals, we get to view everything from Evie’s rose-colored glasses. We see charm instead of harm in Russell, the cult’s mastermind. Suzanne, the girl Evie feels most drawn to, is painted rainbow-bright to hide the darkness of her drug addictions and toxicology of her relationship with Russell.
We see the blues of teenage girlhood too. Lazy days floating in a swimming pool and hazy, drug-induced dances beneath the stars are Evie’s everyday ceremonies. Emma Cline frames the claustrophobia of Evie’s sexual frustrations, self-consciousness, and loneliness with words so dreamlike and faded they could be strung up on a wall like polaroids. From cover to cover, Cline’s words echo The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and Petra Collins photographs, and braid Evie’s experiences into trance-like passages.
But put these reds and blues together, and you’ll find that The Girls is a book with a “tell-it-as-it-is” attitude. It neither passes judgment on the unspeakable things that happen in and outside of Evie’s mind, nor over-romanticize the way she falls for the wrong crowd. No–its poetry comes from a different sort of beauty: the kind birthed from rawness of emotion and obsession. Nothing is censored here. Prepare to forget the fact that The Girls is Emma Cline’s debut novel; her words will transport and shock. And with passages like this:
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 treacled pop songs, the dresses described in the catalogs with words like ‘sunset’ and ‘Paris.’ Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of the jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at his girlfriend on the bus.
It’s clear that The Girls isn’t just about Evie and her fellow female cult members. It’s a portrait depicting the sharp angles of every teenaged girl’s heart, and Emma Cline is its faithful photographer.
Savor this book as you would a popsicle in the summertime. It’s a testament to all sweet things, and how quickly they can melt away under the heat of reality’s truths.
Find The Girls at Fully Booked. To reserve a copy, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cat is a poet and collagist who drinks too much Kopiko for her own good.
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]