The Girls by Emma Cline

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

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.


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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Lost Boy by Brent W. Jeffs

lostboybook

Lost Boy
By Brent W. Jeffs, Maia Szalavitz
Publisher: Broadway
ISBN13: 9780767931779
Pages: 241
Genre: Nonfiction/Autobiography

Synopsis:

In the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), girls can become valuable property as plural wives, but boys are expendable, even a liability. In this powerful and heartbreaking account, former FLDS member Brent Jeffs reveals both the terror and the love he experienced growing up on his prophet’s compound—and the harsh exile existence that so many boys face once they have been expelled by the sect.

Brent Jeffs is the nephew of Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of the FLDS. The son of a prominent family in the church, Brent could have grown up to have multiple wives of his own and significant power in the 10,000-strong community. But he knew that behind the group’s pious public image—women in chaste dresses carrying babies on their hips—lay a much darker reality. So he walked away, and was the first to file a sexual-abuse lawsuit against his uncle. Now Brent shares his courageous story and that of many other young men who have become “lost boys” when they leave the FLDS, either by choice or by expulsion.

Brent experienced firsthand the absolute power that church leaders wield—the kind of power that corrupts and perverts those who will do anything to maintain it. Once young men no longer belong to the church, they are cast out into a world for which they are utterly unprepared. More often than not, they succumb to the temptations of alcohol and other drugs.

Tragically, Brent lost two of his brothers in this struggle, one to suicide, the other to overdose. In this book he shows that lost boys can triumph and that abuse and trauma can be overcome, and he hopes that readers will be inspired to help former FLDS members find their way in the world.


thoughts

This is my first review of a nonfiction title. I am attempting to provide you with nothing more than a few thoughts and my experience during my time with this book. Please be warned that this book does include sensitive material such as sexual abuse.

Until recently, it was a very rare occasion that any autobiography or memoir would capture my attention, let alone make an appearance on the blog. But I am a mood reader, and my mood has been changing. I find myself desiring to know more. Often my chosen topics are those that many might not understand. Although I do know that you are out there. It just doesn’t always go over as well to discuss darker subjects during a lunch date or at your kid’s ball practice.

I openly admit to harboring a strong fascination with cults and religious based followings of unhealthy nature. FLDS and polygamy have been a subject of intrigue for many years, largely due in part to my continuing interest in the human psych. The unyielding followers and devotion found within FLDS arguably and easily fall within the classifications and realm of cult behavior.  Also as a woman and mother, I find myself personally challenging to the concept of polygamy with many unanswered “why’s” and “how’s”. So after a recent documentary that shared a portion of Brent’s story and a look at the FLDS leader and so-called “Prophet” Warren Jeffs, picking this book up made complete sense. I feel no need to provide a recap, as the synopsis is sufficient and thorough.

I do want to specify at this point that I am not comparing FLDS (The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) to LDS who have since disowned many of the practices that are still found within FLDS, such as polygamy. I understand that there is a difference and do not pretend to be an expert in either, nor is this review an attempt to pass judgement on anyone’s religion. With that said, here are my thoughts on the book itself:

Lost Boy is an autobiography of one young man’s life inside and outside of FLDS. It lifts the veil, revealing insight into a world that is hard to grasp and understand. It is a story of manipulation, fear, abuse, loss and survival. It is not an easy read at the best of times, but it is a worthy read.

I found myself in deep appreciation of how much history and back story is actually contained within this book. It was not what I expected, but a welcomed surprise. We are presented with more than a sad and harrowing tale. We are given the working knowledge to understand why our author’s life was so hard and how it came to be for him and so many others. Instead of simply explaining that there was abuse and mistreatment, he shows the reader how it was all possible. We are provided a glimpse into the life of FLDS members that enables us to piece together the true manipulation that is occurring and how such a following began. We learn how fear and religion have been twisted and used against those who were so devoted. We learn how one man, Warren Jeffs, still manages a tenacious and detrimental hold on so many lives even now from prison.

The are many triggers in this book, as Brent makes a conscious effort to be open and forthright. As I mentioned, this not a gentle read. It is every bit candid as it is personal. A childhood of abuse is brought forth, but not without also honestly mentioning the times that there was still happiness. He acknowledges that amidst the chaos there was love and a sense of belonging. There is a simple and raw honesty that enables the reader to not only see but understand. My heart mourned as he described how difficult it was to separate from something so harmful because he knew nothing else. He was so integrated that the prospect of life outside the Church had become terrifying and isolating. He bravely exposes his own harsh reality and struggles that include drug use and bad decisions. There is no saving face. Simply what was and is. This is a story of real life within the FLDS and the ramifications.

I admire Brent’s decision to not only share his personal experience, but the reality of what it was/is to be raised FLDS. The choice to expose and address the years of brainwashing and abuse could not have come easily nor without cost. Lost Boy challenges us to look beyond our own comfort and see from the other side of the curtain. I recommend this to anyone who desires to learn and gain more knowledge of cults within a religious settings and the effects of them on youth, families and the society that those who manage to escape must reenter.

*I had a lot of issues with formatting and corrections while writing this and have honestly given up. So I apologize if it is a bit of a mess.

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