Originally published August 2016
Yeah, it’s worthy of the buzz.
Emma Cline’s “The Girls” is both a coming of age and a coming to terms kind of tale, the story of a young Evie Boyd in the height of San Fran area hippiedom of the early 70s, and of present day Evie Boyd, still struggling to understand her past and a slightly more than transient connection to a cult-like group responsible for a Manson-like murder.
Cline has created a masterful freshman effort with this, her first novel. I can easily get frustrated when I feel like a writer is trying too hard to immerse the reader in a scene with over-descriptive verbosity, and with Cline, there was none of that. She’s chosen her words carefully, and you’ll either immediately fall into the scene or not. And the characters, ranging from the self-conscious Evie to the freestyling Suzanne and creepily charasmatic Russell, are well-drawn and incredibly easy to imagine.
As far as plot goes, for this girl (and for practically any tween or young tween) it was easy to engage. Evie, whose father has since left her and her mother for an office assistant and whose mother for all intents and purposes has checked out of motherhood, finds herself trying to bide time one summer before she leaves for boarding school. Between a string of flaky men her mother brings home and a best friendship gone awry, Evie is floating along, both alone and lonely. So when companionship makes itself available in the form of a mysterious, beautiful older girl and her band of merrymakers, Evie is sucked in almost immediately. Before she knows it, she’s transformed into someone practically unknown to herself. There’s something about Evie’s angst that’s so familiar and stirs up the best and the worst of those difficult teen years.
Vascillating between the past and present, Cline presents two versions of Evie, in some ways nearly the same. Older, but still yearning for companionship, and unable to make a connection. Scarred by her past, she’s unable to move forward, seemingly stuck in time. And in the end, made acutely aware of what strange beautiful things can come to mind when faced with mortality.
I loved this book, and if you are into dysfunctional, beautiful characters, you may too.