The Girls, by Emma Cline follows Evie Boyd as she comes of age in the era of free love.
In 1969, at the age of 14, and while coping with her parents’ divorce, Evie sees a group of “counter-culture” girls at the park and falls in love with the dark-haired Suzanne, who exudes confidence in her own body and her ability to use her sexuality to her advantage. This begins Evie’s journey to “the ranch,” and her involvement in the cult that follows Russell—a man with a Napoleon complex and a dream of a record deal. From here she engages in sex and drugs until a murder changes everything.
While I tend to approach first novels with apprehension. The Girls was one of the best books I’ve read in a while. The pictures Cline paints allow the reader to feel everything alongside Evie, and it’s captivating. Whenever I put the book down, I found myself craving the magical place that was the ranch. When the illusion wears off for Evie, I craved what the ranch once was.
Coming of Age
This story is, at its core, a coming of age story. Through her experiences, Evie transitions from an angsty child to someone beginning to understand the trials of adulthood. She comes to terms with her parents’ divorce and accepts the shattered illusion of the superhero parent.
Within this coming of age is a story of sexual awakening. Evie discovers Playboy magazine early in puberty and is instantly attracted to the naked models. As Evie becomes indoctrinated into the ranch, she has a number of sexual experiences with Russell and other men connected to him. Cline’s language in these instances paints these experiences as real, raw, and un-sexy, not as magical or enlightening. These scenes leave the reader feeling appropriately uncomfortable and defiled. Cline saves the magical language for Evie’s longing for Suzanne and her desire to be close to her; close enough to be her.
As someone whose coming of age was marked by a lack of sexuality and a desire to separate myself from my peers rather than fit in, I was fascinated by Evie’s story. While it directly opposed my own, every step of Evie’s journey felt incredibly real.
I will caution that this novel follows my 100-Rule. I never put a book down before reading 100 pages, because many books pick up around page 101 and this book is no different. However, it is well worth the wait.
My biggest issue with this book is the sections set in the present that check in with Evie as a middle-aged woman. I felt the same way about Orphan Train (I skipped all of the present-day sections in that one). While I understand the present-day sections are written for juxtaposition purposes, I just didn’t care about them. I wanted to remain in the past. Luckily, they only take up a small fraction of the story.
Overall, The Girls, by Emma Cline, is a fantastic read by an incredible talent. I highly recommend it.
Get The Girls here!