book.review: the girls by emma cline

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Cults are fascinating to me. With documentaries like HOLY HELL thrusting cult fascination back into the spotlight, a new novel entitled THE GIRLS by Emma Cline puts another interesting spin on ‘cult’ life. While it’s not without it’s fault, it’s a solid easy read.

RELEASE DATE: June 2016

PUBLISHER: Random House

DISCLAIMER: Novel sent via NetGallery in exchange for a honest review.

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.

REVIEW: In theory, what makes people want to join cults? Inclusion is the answer of choice – most individuals who join cults feel like that are ‘missing’ something in their lives. I was interested in getting author Cline’s perspective here.

Evie is a 14 year old girl who has just been voided of her only friend. With a posh boarding school ahead of her for the new school year and two parents who have mentally checked out of parenting, Evie is a flurry of seclusion and isolation. Upon seeing three striking females in the park one day, Evie knows she wants to be just like them. The main girl – Suzanne – takes an avid interest in Evie and invites her into their bohemian lifestyle. This lifestyle includes Russell – the so called leader of the group, with such an avid following, his words and actions are almost Christ-like. When Evie becomes more associated with Suzanne, the questionable actions of their so-called leader and Suzanne herself begin to weigh heavy on Evie. Who has she become entangled with?

What an interesting premise. The summer of 1969 plays front and centre here, along with brief interactions with modern-day Evie. It works but only after a period of time – after we start understanding what Evie is embroiled with do we start to understand her current day paranoia and isolation.

The words – beautiful. Cline is a true author and champion wielder of the written word. The words flow beautifully, just like a song.

The character of Evie is young but reads as much older. It was only after re-reading the synopsis did I truly realize that she was characterized to be 14 years of age. It doesn’t write as so. The trials and tribulations that she encounters within this novel are mind blowing. Her adoration with Suzanne makes us truly understand how vulnerable Evie was to the ‘cult’ lifestyle and how quickly it consumed her. When she lost everything in life, Suzanne and the ‘group’ were her only rock. It’s interesting to watch Cline portray Evie in such a manner.

….And here come my gripes, because I did have a few that I just couldn’t shake!

(1) It’s evident that Evie is in love / infactuation with Suzanne, though it’s never delved into. Is it just because she was young and impressionable or does Evie truly love Suzanne?
(2) I didn’t understand truly why Russell was their leader – his spell over the group wasn’t fully defined.
(3) I felt like this novel jumped from bohemian free lifestyle to murder cult very fast. Where was this progression coming from? Where did this hate, anger, and rage stem from? Where did this loyalty Russell commanded come from (see #2).
(4) What on earth happens to Evie afterwards? It’s hinted that people know of her involved in the cult but it’s never acknowledged as to how – did she testify? Did she tell people?
(5) There is ZERO DEVELOPMENT of the ‘girls’ at the centre of the story. I can’t remember 2 out of 3 of their names.

So that’s that! Happy reading.

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