The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls
By Emma Cline
Publisher: Random House
ISBN13: 9780812998603
Pages: 355
Genre: Fiction (Adult)


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.

my-thoughtThe Girls is undoubtedly a challenging read. Based on the Manson murders, make no mistake, there is a hefty amount of uncomfortable content centering around drug use and sexual encounters (some of which I would clearly label as assault). The fact that the main protagonist Evie is a mere 14 years old, makes it one tough pill to swallow.

Based on several reviews, I was anticipating a dark read full of teenage angst that played on a graphic core in order to up the “wow” factor. I could not have been more wrong. Nor have I ever been happier to be so wrong. The Girls is a shining example of how to utilize first person narration in the most successful ways.

It is the end of the 60’s in Northern California. It is summer, and Evie Boyd feels isolated and out-of-place. Like many teenage girls she just wants to belong. Enter Suzanne. She is care-free and captivating. Immediately drawn to this young stranger, she slowly begins distancing herself from her family and only real friend to spend more time with Suzanne and her friends on the ranch led by the amorous Russell. Evie feels like she has finally found her place in life. But once the initial luster wears off, she realizes she may be involved in something sinister and dangerous.

“My eyes were already habituated to the texture of decay, so I thought that I had passed back into the circle of light.”

Evie Boyd is so bitterly realistic and raw as a protagonist that there is a part of her I found uncomfortably familiar. As a young impressionable girl desperately seeking an acceptance that most of us can remember feeling was out of reach during some point in our young lives, she is undeniably relatable to at least a small degree. It is this painfully honest approach to her character that gives her and The Girls true life and credibility. The part of me that would normally question her frighteningly bad decisions and actions was easily replaced with an equal amount of sadness and understanding. I didn’t like that I was juggling this new-found sympathy for a character who was making harrowing choices, but I couldn’t help but admire the author’s ability to solicit this from me. Full immersion into Evie’s life had occurred.

“You wanted things and you couldn’t help it, because there was only your life, only yourself to wake up with, and how could you ever tell yourself what you wanted was wrong?”

Cline spares zero expense or feelings in effort to establish this dark world that is a cult. She brazenly exposes the reader to the loss of Evie’s innocence, gross sexual encounters and the repetitive drug use that fuels this disturbing journey into one young girl’s psych and time on the ranch. The very facets that make The Girls so disturbing also make it so triumphant. This no holds barred approach succeeds in setting the stage and making the unfathomable feel horribly possible. It is through this bold technique that the reader can begin to process how our young protagonist has come to find herself on the ranch. This is a terrifyingly sincere representation of cult life and culture. It is not meant to be pleasant or easy.

Cline’s writing is almost poetic yet pragmatic. She effortlessly supplies a fluid narration that leaps from Evie’s past to present. I have noted some reader’s struggled with the change in tone at times, but I personally found this to play perfectly into her transitions, conveying our narrator’s current state of mind more effectively.  The ending did not offer an overly satisfying conclusion, but I couldn’t really ask that from The Girls.

So here is the hard part, I loved this novel. But I am hesitant to recommend it. This will be too much for many and rightfully so. This is a brutal coming of age story during a very dark time. It has burrowed deep into the core of my mind and is sure to remain for some time. If you find yourself truly fascinated with cult culture and the human psych and can stomach the harsh reality of what it entails, then consider adding this to your list.

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38 thoughts on “The Girls by Emma Cline

  1. So glad you enjoyed this one! I loved it too and agree it’s not at all dark thriller territory, even though it has all the ingredients of one. I loved that it was really much more about the characterisation, and the utterly believable vulnerability of young girls who perhaps don’t have as much family support as they need at that age. And I liked that she included older Evie too, so that we could see what happened to her – again I found her older self totally believable too. Great stuff – can’t wait to see what Emma Cline does next! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am always interested in cult stories, but for some reason this one just doesn’t particularly appeal to me. It might be the time era? I’m glad you enjoyed it, though. You’re definitely making me re-think my decision to not read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed your review Danielle! I tried to read this last summer and I just couldn’t get into it so it went into my DNF pile:( I think it just wasn’t a good fit for me because I’m not interested in anything having to do with cults.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is! I think the graphic content with minors will really turn most off (understandably) but the author is just being fully honest in exposing the reality of the situation. This is definitely one I would enjoy seeing you review 😉


  4. I’m not interested in the book but wow, what a review! The characterization as you described it felt so amazing! We’ve indeed all have had the need to belong, to fit, and sometimes I find it hard to connect with a character because of their decisions but here, it sounds as if the author did it so right, the decisions themselves weren’t strong enough to erase the bound to the protagonist!
    This would definitely be too dark for me. I read bloody crimes but I don’t know, I’m not feeling this story! But this was a wonderful review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hm, the era and the cult theme definitely appeals… This is a wonderful review and you make me want to read this, but I think I have to wait until the mood strikes to tackle this. It certainly does help knowing that the first person POV was executed well on!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent review! I’ve been wondering about this one ever since it first came out and it definitely sounds intriguing; although I’ll probably have to be in the mood for a ‘heavy’ read

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So glad to hear that it turned out pretty good, even with the relatively large number of negative reviews out there. I like the whole ” no holds barred approach” that you noticed from this book. I’ll add this pick it up if I find it cheap in the future. Fantastic review, Danielle!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Happy to hear you enjoyed this one! I struggled with this one a bit. On one hand I thought Cline did a wonderful job with her cult & cult culture portrayal, but on the other I wasn’t a fan of some of the other elements & had a hard time with Cline’s writing style at times… I definitely think it was a decent book & worth while read, but I think I was expecting a little more from the ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can certainly see how the writing style won’t sit well at times. I just fell head over heels for how real she was. It made a tough but real read. It was exactly what I needed 😉 I thought your review was pretty spot on and understood your points.


  9. I’ve had this one for a while now and have yet to read it. Glad to see you liked it though. I’ve seen mixed reviews of it and I think it’s because, as you said, the story is too much for some. Others have said that it’s too great a story for a debut author. Either way, I want to read it still.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it is definitely a heavy and challenging read being so graphic and with a minor mc. Being the author held very true to cult culture and made no qualms about doing so. If you don’t mind the content and have any interest in cults, it will appeal I think 🙂


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