When I mentioned this book on Twitter, a lot of people said they were interested in it- and so today I thought I would write a full review of ‘The Girls’ by Emma Cline. It was such a gripping, disturbing, and intense read- and I’m so excited to share all my thoughts on this well-written book!
This review contains some discussion of sexual abuse and violence. I’ve not discussed it explicitly, but if you find this upsetting, please do not read any further or check out another of my reviews.
‘The Girls’ focuses on Evelyn, a young teenager living in California in the late 1960s. She is unhappy and on the brink of womanhood, feeling uncomfortable and at odds with her family.
Her parents have recently separated, and with her mum introducing her new boyfriend she is feeling angry and alone, spending her time wandering the town and trying to stay far away from home. One day she spots a group of strangely dressed, pretty teenage girls, walking around town with the confidence and self-assurance Evelyn hankers for.
She watches these girls whenever they come to town, and eventually manages to tag along when they return home to their ranch. These girls all live together, and the ranch is filled with children and teenagers of varying ages who run wild, with no adult supervision. They live off the land in a kind of ’60s hippy “paradise”.
All the teenagers are in awe of their “leader” Russell, a charming man who “looks after” the girls, earning their love and constant admiration. The girls would do anything for Russell, and Evelyn soon becomes swept up in the allure and excitement of life on the ranch, heading back there whenever she can.
Before she knows it, Evelyn is treated like another of Russell’s girls- and she is soon sleeping with him and the famous friends he needs to impress. At the end of the summer Evelyn is heading to boarding school, and this book chronicles the awful events perpetrated by the inhabitants of this ranch in the lead up to school starting.
The book swaps between Evelyn’s time on the ranch in the ’60s, and modern day- with Evelyn a woman now, and living in her friend’s summer house. Her friend’s son is also staying in the house with his girlfriend, and so this modern day part of the book discusses how the son treats his girlfriend- and provides a clear link between the awful events at the ranch with the treatment of women’s bodies and feelings in modern day America.
‘The Girls’ is loosely based on the Manson murders- and the links between the real-life events and Cline’s book are striking. She looks at figures such as Roman Polanski and Charles Manson himself, using fictional characters to represent the girls involved in this awful cult during the late 1960s.
One of the things that struck me in this book was the way in which these teenage girls truly were victims. They came from broken homes and just wanted to be loved- and that led them to adore Russell like a God, sleeping with him and believing anything they did for him made them even more loved by him.
The view of women’s bodies by society in this book was disturbing, with both ’60s Evelyn and modern day Evelyn discussing the way young women are used and abused. Russell views the teenage girls as commodities who will do anything that he wants, and in the modern day part of the book, Evelyn watches Sasha, her friend’s son’s girlfriend, reduced to just a body without consideration of her feelings.
I feel strange saying I enjoyed this book, as it was disturbing and explicit in a way that made me uncomfortable- especially as it was loosely based on real-life events. It’s shocking to think that one man managed to completely control so many teenage girls, sexually abusing them and making them think it was love in a way that was not just disgusting but highly illegal.
However, this was such a gripping, thrilling read that I couldn’t help but get sucked into the world Emma Cline created. It was so interesting to get an insight into a cult such as this, and looking at the events of the cult from a fictional perspective really made me understand just how abused these young girls were- and how brain-washed the victims had been.
These girls really believed they were loved, and they would do anything for Russell- and this stopped at nothing.
I really recommend this book, and it was so fascinating to learn more about the Manson murders- although of course this book was fictional. There were some very explicit scenes, and a few scenes were violent but I quickly raced through the book and it was written in such an easy style.
Did you enjoy my review of ‘The Girls’ by Emma Cline? Do you think you’ll give this book a go? Do you enjoy books based on real-life events?
Let me know all your thoughts in the comments below 🙂
Happy reading x