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The Girls

The Girls

3.4 53
by Emma Cline

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THE INSTANT BESTSELLER • An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong

The Washington Post • NPR • The Guardian • Entertainment Weekly • San Francisco Chronicle • Financial Times •


THE INSTANT BESTSELLER • An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong

The Washington Post • NPR • The Guardian • Entertainment Weekly • San Francisco Chronicle • Financial Times • Esquire • Newsweek • Vogue • Glamour • People • The Huffington Post • Elle • Harper’s Bazaar • Time Out • BookPage • Publishers Weekly • Slate

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.

Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize • Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Award • Shortlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize • The New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • Emma Cline—One of Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists

Praise for The Girls

“Emma Cline has an unparalleled eye for the intricacies of girlhood, turning the stuff of myth into something altogether more intimate.”—Lena Dunham

“Spellbinding . . . a seductive and arresting coming-of-age story.”The New York Times Book Review

“Extraordinary . . . Debut novels like this are rare, indeed.”The Washington Post

“Hypnotic.”—The Wall Street Journal

“Gorgeous.”—Los Angeles Times

“Savage.”—The Guardian

“Astonishing.”—The Boston Globe

“Superbly written.”—James Wood, The New Yorker

“Intensely consuming.”—Richard Ford

“A spectacular achievement.”—Lucy Atkins, The Times

“Thrilling.”—Jennifer Egan

“Compelling and startling.”—The Economist

“Elegant and nostalgic.”—Julie Beck, The Atlantic

“Masterful . . . In the cult dynamic, Cline has seen something universal—emotions, appetites, and regular human needs warped way out of proportion—and in her novel she’s converted a quintessentially ’60s story into something timeless.”—Christian Lorentzen, New York

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Emma Cline on the Dark Side of Girl Power

A lonely teenage girl, her last summer at home before boarding school, an intriguing gang of older, louche girls in a local park. It's northern California at the end of the 1960s, and these girls are coming of age at the edge of unspeakable violence. Written in seductive, luminous prose, Emma Cline's haunting novel, The Girls, captures the experience of crossing between adolescence and adulthood, questioning what we're willing to do to belong and to be seen.

The reviews continue to land, and they are all phenomenal. "Arresting," "stunning," "mesmerizing and sympathetic" -- and that's just a start. They continue: "An astonishing work of imagination, "remarkably atmospheric, preternaturally intelligent, and brutally feminist," "a wise novel that's never showy," "a quiet, seething confession of yearning and terror."

A few weeks ago Emma Cline and her editor, Kate Medina, executive vice president, associate publisher, executive editorial director at Random House, took the stage at Barnes & Noble on Manhattan's Upper West Side to talk about the genesis of this remarkable novel. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation. --Miwa Messer, Director, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers

Kate Medina: One of the things I found remarkable about your book, as you know, is your profound understanding of adolescent girls and of the women they become. I remember asking you when you came in to see me, "How do you know so much about girls?" How do you?

Emma Cline: Well, there's one easy, obvious answer -- that I was a girl. But then, I also have four younger sisters, which is quite a lot of adolescents to be in one house together, as I'm sure my mother would agree. So there's five girls in my family, as well as two boys, and all five of us are very close in age. It was really one right after the other. So just five teenage girls in one house, which is like an illness in the household. You should stay away. There should be a sign over the door.

You experience something as an adolescent girl, and maybe it doesn't imprint on you, but you see it repeated four times in quick succession, and you start to see patterns and sort of think about the way that girls and women are treated in the world.

KM: That's one really strong draw, I think, to this novel. In the New York Times feature about you, Emma, you spoke about driving past Charles Manson's house as a child. Would you tell us about your background and how it inspired this novel.

EC: That was a huge part of why I came to this story. I'm from California, northern California, which is still very haunted by the '60s. They're still sort of dealing with the leftovers of this era, which was so important. So I sort of grew up in the shadow of it. Yeah, we would drive past San Quentin, which is a prison, when I was little, when I was six or seven, and my parents would say, "That's Charles Manson's house." And in the way of little kids, I really thought he lived there. I thought that's an awfully big house, but I was also really scared of him. He was sort of my version of the Bogeyman growing up.

Then, as I got older, I read Helter Skelter. That was the first thing I read about the Manson Family. Which I think a lot of teenagers sort of find magnetically somehow; they're just drawn to this tawdry true-crime book. I read that, and I remember being so fascinated that the women involved, the girls were really only a few years older than I was at the time when I first read it. That's who I was interested in, in the story. I wasn't so interested in Manson, who I think we all know quite a bit about at this time, and I don't know that there's much new information that has a lot of texture. But to me, the girls . . . there was some space left over for a novelist.

KM: I think that is what we're finding many readers relate to is your understanding of the powerful longing in girls to be seen, acknowledged, and belong. One of the messages we get on Facebook a lot about this book is: What would you do to belong? I think about this aspect of the girls in your novel when I read about ISIS, young women called "brides of ISIS" who leave Canada, the United Kingdom, and other places, vulnerable to falling into that kind of attachment. I'm wondering if you'd say more about that kind of vulnerable time in a girl's life.

EC: Yes -- this book is set mostly in the '60s, but to me there is something about the story that really could happen at any moment, and, like you're saying, the teenage girls who sort of ran away to join ISIS -- it's not something that was only specific to 1969. I think the desire to belong and be part of something larger, and to really be seen and noticed, is such a primal desire and won't ever really go away. I think that's what animates a lot of the book, and what makes it to me . . . The cult aspect is interesting to me, but it's a way of talking about what I'm really interested in, which is the lives of girls and sort of that yearning, and how does the world treat that yearning -- how do they take advantage of it?

I think it's also an age when young women are testing the boundaries of the world around them. I think we teach young women that the world is dangerous for them specifically. So if you've been raised that way, how do you find your way in the world? Could you maybe want to seek out danger? Because that's a way of figuring out how will the world treat you. That's a moment where you have excitement or power over your own life in a world that often leaves you powerless.

KM: Some other reviewers have focused on the Mansonesque aspects of Russell, who is the charismatic center of the cult. And other books have been written about California's dark side and the male leaders, with women as bit players, I think you once said. But you wanted to write about the girls. Would you say a little more about that, and why you made girls the center of the story?

EC: Yeah. Like I said, and as you've mentioned, we almost have this interchangeable idea of what a cult leader looks like, and a lot of them came out of northern California. Go, California! Gerald Stone, Jim Jones, Manson . . . In many ways, they are very similar. I think we're familiar with the psychological profile of these people. I think in this book I really like that Russell is actually the side character. In a book that people might call, like, a Manson Book or a Mansonesque book, I really like the idea of sort of putting that meat to the side. It's been funny. It's mostly been men, but they've been like, Why not more about this fascinating Russell character?

But to me, yeah, I love that his orbit around these women, actually, is in many ways incidental to the plot.

KM: It's also very interesting in this novel how Evie gradually begins to see who he really is. It's very sophisticated and very marvelous, how you do that.

EC: I think an older reader can see right away that he's not anything very special, but to a fourteen-year-old girl, somebody who is sort of saying the things they want to hear -- but I also love that the reason Evie really gets interested in the group is because of Suzanne, an older girl, and not because of this man, that it's really like this projection and this intense friendship that acts as the incident that sort of gets her involved.

KM: I remember wanting to read your novel fast, to find out what was going to happen, and slow, to savor the words and the writing. I guess if a writer can ever say: How did you learn to write like this? You have an MFA from Columbia. What did you learn about writing there, and how did you develop this amazing voice?

EC: I think as a reader, I've always been drawn to books that create their own world, and that sort of are very immersive, and you learn how to read them as you go on. So I loved the idea of this book that functions as its own visual universe almost. I was thinking of other books that I really enjoyed. I think The Virgin Suicides is one that you immediately are sort of indoctrinated almost into this writer's tone and style. And Lorrie Moore, too. Other writers who sort of work at a heightened pitch, I think. That was important to me.

It mostly comes from reading so much and really thinking about what I enjoy as a reader. Which is also what was great about going to an MFA program. Because you're forced to confront the fact of readers, and if you're working alone, you can sort of project all kinds of things onto your own work that may or may not be there. But readers will tell you. So that was important to me, to respect the reading experience when I read this book.

KM: So it was workshopped?

EC: I actually never really workshopped this novel. I was mostly workshopping short stories, just because the structure of an MFA doesn't really lend itself to workshopping novels. So really my main reader while I was writing this book was one of my four younger sisters. It turns out you can make your younger sister read twelve drafts of a book! So she was my proto-editor. And I sort of bribed her with many treats, but she read my drafts. And in many ways, she's sort of my ideal reader, I think. So she told me when I was going in the right direction.

KM: Did your understanding of girls and women evolve or deepen as you wrote your way through this book or as you heard people talk about the book and respond to it? I guess I wondered whether the writing of the book and the publishing of the book affected the way you think about girls and women. Was there any change that you remember noticing?

EC: For me, it's been really gratifying hearing that the book has been meaningful to people, especially young women, but also anyone who has been a young woman or knows a young woman. What I wanted to do in writing the book was, I think, present a complex portrait of girls and sort of let them be more than the one-note characterizations that I think are so prevalent in the way that we talk about teenage girls especially. I think we have very flat characterizations of them and give them so little subjectivity and agency. So writing a book with these girls at the center who are allowed to be more than victims -- sometimes they are people who victimize other people. Or something terrible can happen, and they might almost like it. They have all these complex feelings, which I think is real to how girls and women experience the world.

I know for me, as a big reader, it's rare to come across this. I remember one of the first times I really did. I don't know if any of have you read Diary of a Teenage Girl or seen the movie, which was also great. But my heart started pounding a little faster when I was reading, because I just thought, Oh, here it is. That's something I really wanted to do with this book, too.

KM: A lot of the messaging online in praise of the girls has to do with what's called the "near miss" in a girl or a woman's life, that moment when everything could go horribly wrong. Were you aware of this kind of common or universal possible connection that people would be making to this book?

EC: Yes. And I've definitely heard a lot more stories as the book has been out in the world. But I think it's something that was true with most of the women I know. Just that they experienced girlhood as this very dangerous moment, and that they were sort of going right up to the edge of things all the time, that sort of way of testing boundaries, and they felt that it was almost an accident that nothing bad happened, or that nothing worse happened. I think a lot of that points to the way that we treat women and girls and the way our society is structured -- that it's such a vulnerable population.

KM: There is in the book some commentary about the stereotypes out there of women, with which you're at odds. So Evie identifies common female stereotypes by saying, "That was part of being a girl. You were resigned to whatever feedback you get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn't react, you were a bitch." That encapsulates many of the sentiments about female adolescence throughout the book. Would you want to speak about that line?

EC: Sure. It's grim to hear it repeated back, because I think it's somewhat true that we do give girls this tiny little real estate to sort of exist in, when, of course, they are full human beings. And can you write a book that gives them back their full humanity? Yeah.

KM: One of the things that I admired about this book is that you let us see all the people of different ages in this book as real people. Particularly your portrayal of Evie's mother and father, who really do kind of drop the ball and leave her on her own this summer, and also to Mara, her father's girlfriend, in that you make them real people. They are not all bad or all good. They are just people. So it's a surprise, and one of the many surprises in this book, who comes through for Evie. Tell me how you feel, for example, about Evie's mother. I found her quite sympathetic, trying in the '60s way to put her life together again after a divorce.

EC: It was really important to me that no one be 100 percent bad or good, because again, I don't think that's how the world operates. I think it's actually what's most frightening about something . . . you know, a crime like there is at the center of this book, is that it's often committed by people who you can see their humanity at the same time that you can see this horror. And what does it mean to be able to see both of those things, and have you make sense of it? Or can you even make sense? The parents don't commit any terrible crimes, but to the teenage Evie, I think she really experiences then not as monsters but as people who are just letting her down so brutally.

But that's what's nice about having an older narrator -- you get to comment and contextualize on this almost suffocating point of view that is like a fourteen-year-old girl's point of view. I feel like when you're a teenager, you can't really accept nuance or gray area. You have this real purity almost in your commitment to your ideals or the sense that the world is very black-and-white. The definition of adulthood is compromise and nuance, the gray area. That's the realm of being an adult, unfortunately.

KM: Can you love someone who has done something terrible? How would you answer that question?

EC: I think that's a lot of what the book is about, that Evie has had this intense relationship with Suzanne, the older girl who draws her into this group, and she is still struggling with this many decades later, to form some narrative about what it meant or who Suzanne was to her. They might be able to meet again as adults, and you might be able to get some resolution about this person who resists any kind of easy reading. But I like the idea that in this book she never gets that closure. That felt very true to life to me, that these people can come and have a huge impact on you, and maybe for the rest of your life you would be trying to come up with a story to tell yourself about what that meant.

KM: One of the things I love most about this novel is that in roughly the last half of the book, many things happen that are not actually explained. So with some of the turning points at the end of the novel, you have to kind of figure out what you think happened. How did you manage to resist telling us what happened?

EC: I think, honestly, the character doesn't quite know, so that's easier to sort of occupy as the writer, too -- that not-knowing. But also, that's what I'm most interested in in art and fiction especially, is these ambiguous moments. For me, I was thinking a lot about sort of moral luck with this book. One of the examples that's most used is, like: Is somebody who drives drunk but doesn't kill anyone as culpable as someone who drives drunk and happens to get in a car accident where someone dies? The accident of the way our lives turn out. And also, what would it mean to you if you could feel your proximity to something so terrible and sort of never know what your culpability, your moral responsibility really was in that moment? That to me seems a rich well to draw from for fiction.

--July 18, 2016

The New York Times Book Review - Dylan Landis
… a seductive and arresting coming-of-age story hinged on Charles Manson, told in sentences at times so finely wrought they could almost be worn as jewelry. It reimagines the summer leading up to the notorious Tate-LaBianca murders in Los Angeles in August 1969, and it dissects an obsession—but not the one you'd expect…Cline gorgeously maps the topography of one loneliness-ravaged adolescent heart. She gives us the fictional truth of a girl chasing danger beyond her comprehension, in a Summer of Longing and Loss.
Publishers Weekly
★ 02/15/2016
A middle-aged woman looks back on her experience with a California cult reminiscent of the Manson Family in Cline’s provocative, wonderfully written debut. Fourteen years old in the summer of 1969, Evie Boyd enjoys financial privilege and few parental restrictions. Yet she’s painfully aware that she is fascinated by girls, awkward with boys, and overlooked by her divorced parents, who are preoccupied with their own relationships. When Evie meets “raunchy and careless” Suzanne Parker, she finds in the 19-year-old grifter an assurance she herself lacks. Suzanne lives at a derelict ranch with the followers of charismatic failed musician Russell Hadrick, who extols selflessness and sexual freedom. Soon, Evie—grateful for Russell’s attention, the sense of family the group offers, and Suzanne’s seductive presence—is swept into their chaotic existence. As the mood at the ranch turns dark, her choices become riskier. The novel’s title is apt: Cline is especially perceptive about the emulation and competition, the longing and loss, that connect her novel’s women and their difficult, sometimes destructive passages to adulthood. Its similarities to the Manson story and crimes notwithstanding, The Girls is less about one night of violence than about the harm we can do, to ourselves and others, in our hunger for belonging and acceptance. Agent: Bill Clegg, the Clegg Agency. (June)
From the Publisher
“Spellbinding . . . A seductive and arresting coming-of-age story hinged on Charles Manson, told in sentences at times so finely wrought they could almost be worn as jewelry . . . [Emma] Cline gorgeously maps the topography of one loneliness-ravaged adolescent heart. She gives us the fictional truth of a girl chasing danger beyond her comprehension, in a Summer of Longing and Loss.”The New York Times Book Review

“[The Girls reimagines] the American novel . . . Like Mary Gaitskill’s Veronica or Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, The Girls captures a defining friendship in its full humanity with a touch of rock-memoir, tell-it-like-it-really-was attitude.”Vogue

“Debut novels like this are rare, indeed. . . . The most remarkable quality of this novel is Cline’s ability to articulate the anxieties of adolescence in language that’s gorgeously poetic without mangling the authenticity of a teenager’s consciousness. The adult’s melancholy reflection and the girl’s swelling impetuousness are flawlessly braided together. . . . For a story that traffics in the lurid notoriety of the Manson murders, The Girls is an extraordinary act of restraint. With the maturity of a writer twice her age, Cline has written a wise novel that’s never showy: a quiet, seething confession of yearning and terror.”The Washington Post

“Outstanding . . . Cline’s novel is an astonishing work of imagination—remarkably atmospheric, preternaturally intelligent, and brutally feminist. . . . Cline painstakingly destroys the separation between art and faithful representation to create something new, wonderful, and disorienting.”The Boston Globe

“Finely intelligent, often superbly written, with flashingly brilliant sentences, . . . Cline’s first novel, The Girls, is a song of innocence and experience. . . . In another way, though, Cline’s novel is itself a complicated mixture of freshness and worldly sophistication. . . . At her frequent best, Cline sees the world exactly and generously. On every other page, it seems, there is something remarkable—an immaculate phrase, a boldly modifying adverb, a metaphor or simile that makes a sudden, electric connection between its poles. . . . Much of this has to do with Cline’s ability to look again, like a painter, and see (or sense) things better than most of us do.”The New Yorker

“Breathtaking . . . So accomplished that it’s hard to believe it’s a debut. Cline’s powerful characters linger long after the final page.”Entertainment Weekly (Summer Must List)

“A mesmerizing and sympathetic portrait of teen girls.”People (Summer’s Best Books)

“Cline’s exquisite set pieces are the equal of her intricate unwinding of Evie’s emotions. . . . The Girls isn’t a Wikipedia novel, it’s not one of those historical novels that congratulates the present on its improvements over the past, and it doesn’t impose today’s ideas on the old days. As the smartphone-era frame around Evie’s story implies, Cline is interested in the Manson chapter for the way it amplifies the novel’s traditional concerns. Pastoral, marriage plot, crime story—the novel of the cult has it all. You wonder why more people don’t write them.”New York Magazine

“Hypnotizing . . . [Cline’s] eagle-eyed take on the churnings and pitfalls of adolescence—longing to be wanted, feeling seen, getting discarded—rarely misses its mark. In truth, it’s this aspect of The Girls . . . that stays with us after Evie’s whirlwind story concludes.”San Francisco Chronicle

“Gorgeous, disquieting, and really, really good . . . [Cline’s] prose conveys a kind of atmospheric dread, punctuated by slyly distilled observation. . . . What Cline does in The Girls is to examine, even dissect, these shifts between power and powerlessness that characterize a girl’s coming of age. . . . Cline, born years after the events she explores, brings a fresh and discerning eye to both the specific, horrific crime at her book’s center, one firmly located in a time and place, and the timeless, slow-motion tragedy of a typical American girlhood.”Los Angeles Times

“A hypnotic, persuasively melancholy performance . . . The surprise of this novel is its almost studious avoidance of shock and sensationalism. . . . What Ms. Cline delivers instead is an atmosphere of eerie desolation and balked desire thanks to her sensuous turns of phrase.”The Wall Street Journal

“[The Girls is] a heady evocation of the boredom and isolation of adolescence in pre-internet suburbia, in houses deserted by their restless, doubt-stricken adult proprietors. . . . The adult Evie has never shaken the memory of the ranch, and Cline gradually makes clear that’s not because it was so very different from the average run of American life, but because it was, underneath it all, so similar.”—Slate

“Cline’s book is stunning, exceeding all expectations. . . . A spectacular achievement.”The Times

“Taut, beautiful and savage, Cline’s novel demands your attention.”—The Guardian

“In her stunning debut novel, Emma Cline captures the powerful allure of California’s carefree late-sixties spirit through the eyes of a teenage girl seduced by a Manson-like cult.”Harper’s Bazaar

“The buzziest book of the summer.”Good Housekeeping

“As addictive as it is shocking.”Marie Claire

“A dark, seductive coming-of-age story, The Girls is the thrilling account of a young woman getting sucked into a terrifying world.”Buzzfeed

“[A]s fast-moving as a van on the run, as dark and atmospheric as the smog it cuts through . . . A complex story about girlhood, violence, and the psychology of cults, carried by the author’s buoyant sentences and easy insights into the paradoxes of femininity.”The Huffington Post

“[A] thrilling coming-of-age novel imbued with an anxious urgency. As the drama builds and your eyes widen, it becomes ever more impossible to find a stopping point in this beautifully written book.”—Refinery29

“Longing and desire are the twin forces ricocheting in Cline’s beast of a debut. . . . It is one of the darkest and most alluring coming-of-age novels to drop in a good while. . . . Cline is an enviable talent right out of the starting gate.”—Electric Literature

The Girls is seductive and mesmerizing, packed with language that’ll leave your pages dog-eared. You’ll feel like you’re in a fever dream as you read about an infamous cult of young women in 1960s Northern California. The Girls is a book that’ll stay with you all summer.”Elle 

The Girls is an exploration of the precariousness of being a teenage girl and the perils of craving acceptance. . . . Cline has created a perfect slow burner of a story. Her writing is languid and astute, and the rapport she establishes with her audience is like a cat courting a mouse that it plans to consume.”—BookPage

“A thrilling debut novel about the power and danger of girlhood.”—PopSugar

“[A] provocative, wonderfully written debut . . . Cline is especially perceptive about the emulation and competition, the longing and loss, that connect her novel’s women and their difficult, sometimes destructive passages to adulthood. . . . The Girls is less about one night of violence than about the harm we can do, to ourselves and others, in our hunger for belonging and acceptance.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“In her impressive debut, Cline illuminates the darkest truths of a girl’s coming-of-age, telling a story that is familiar on multiple levels in a unique and compelling way.”Booklist (starred review)

“Vivid and ambitious.”Kirkus Reviews

The Girls is a brilliant and intensely consuming novel—imposing not just for a writer so young, but for any writer, any time.”—Richard Ford

“Emma Cline has an unparalleled eye for the intricacies of girlhood, turning the stuff of myth into something altogether more intimate. She reminds us that behind so many of our culture’s fables exists a girl: unseen, unheard, angry. This book will break your heart and blow your mind.”—Lena Dunham

“Emma Cline’s first novel positively hums with fresh, startling, luminous prose. The Girls announces the arrival of a thrilling new voice in American fiction.”—Jennifer Egan

“I don’t know which is more amazing, Emma Cline’s understanding of human beings or her mastery of language.”—Mark Haddon, New York Times bestselling author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Library Journal
★ 05/15/2016
It is the summer of 1969 in Northern California, and 14-year-old Evie Boyd is bored and lonely. Ignored by her recently divorced parents and alienated from her friend Connie, Evie is intrigued by a trio of hippie girls she spots in a local park, studying them "with a shameless, blatant gape." Their dirty smock dresses, long uncombed hair, and careless independent manner are so different from Evie's own neat and tidy childish world, and she longs to be accepted by them, especially by cool, otherworldly Suzanne. Edie starts small, offering to shoplift toilet paper and then stealing money from her preoccupied mother to impress Suzanne and Russell, the girls' charismatic leader. Before long, she is hanging out at the group's rundown communal ranch in the hills, feeling for the first time that she's part of a family—even though this "family" happens to be a cult that will soon be making headlines in the most horrific way. VERDICT Although inspired by the infamous Charles Manson murders, Cline's impressive debut is more a harrowing coming-of-age exploration of how far a young girl will go (and how much she will give up of herself) in her desperate quest to belong. Beautifully written and unforgettable. [See Prepub Alert, 1/4/16; "Editors' Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/16, p. 32.]—Wilda Williams, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
An award-winning young author uses Charles Manson and his followers as the inspiration for her first novel. Evie Boyd is in a city park the first time she sees the girls. With their bare feet and long hair and secondhand dresses they offer a vision of life beyond her suburban, upper-middle-class experience. "Like royalty in exile," they suggest the possibility of another world, a world separate from the wreckage of her parents' marriage, from the exacting lessons gleaned from teen magazines, from the unending effort of trying to be appealing. What 14-year-old Evie can't see that day is that these girls aren't any freer than she is. Shifting between the present and the summer of 1969, this novel explores the bitter dregs of 1960s counterculture. Narrating from middle age, Evie—like the reader—knows what's going to happen. But Evie has had decades to analyze what she did and what was done to her, and Cline peoples her version of this oft-examined story with carefully crafted characters. The star in Evie's solar system isn't Russell, the Manson stand-in. Instead, it's Suzanne, the young woman who becomes Evie's surrogate mother, sister, lover, and—finally—protector. This book is, among other things, a love story. Cline makes old news fresh, but she also succumbs to an MFA's fondness for strenuously inventive language: "Donna spooked her hands dreamily." "The words slit with scientific desire." "I felt the night churn in me like a wheel." These metaphors are more baffling than illuminating. And Evie's conclusion that patriarchal culture might turn any girl deadly feels powerfully true at first but less so upon reflection. Suzanne and her accomplices don't turn on their oppressor like righteous Maenads; instead, they sacrifice themselves on his behalf. And there's also the simple fact that very few girls become mass murderers. Vivid and ambitious.
Boston Globe
"Outstanding.... Cline's novel is an astonishing work of imagination — remarkably atmospheric, preternaturally intelligent, and brutally feminist.... Cline painstakingly destroys the separation between art and faithful representation to create something new, wonderful, and disorienting."
San Francisco Chronicle
"[A] hypnotizing debut.... Her eagle-eyed take on the churnings and pitfalls of adolescence — longing to be wanted, feeling seen, getting discarded — rarely misses its mark. In truth, it's this aspect of The Girls that stays with us after Evie's whirlwind story concludes."
"[A] thrilling coming-of-age novel imbued with an anxious urgency. As the drama builds and your eyes widen, it becomes ever more impossible to find a stopping point in this beautifully written book."
Electric Literature
"Longing and desire are the twin forces ricocheting in Cline's beast of a debut.... [The Girls] is one of the darkest and most alluring coming-of-age novels to drop in a good while.... Cline is an enviable talent right out of the starting gate."
"[T]his isn't just another Manson book or another book about the Summer of Love gone wrong. Instead, it's a collection of gleaming, unexpected sentences that adds up to a portrait of how easily teenage yearning for maturity and community can be steered into domination and horror. The Girls will terrify you, shock you, haunt you — in all the right ways."
The Rumpus
"[C]hilling and perceptive. Cline does a marvelous job of maintaining suspense in the face of narrative inevitability."
ABC News/Good Morning America
"Cline shows the reader an unforgettable portrait of girls, the women they grow into, and that moment in life when almost everything can go horribly wrong."

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Random House Publishing Group
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5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)

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Adapted from THE GIRLS by Emma Cline, available everywhere June 14th, 2016.

I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.
I noticed their hair first, long and uncombed. Then their jewelry catching the sun. The three of them were far enough away that I saw only the periphery of their features, but it didn’t matter—I knew they were different from everyone else in the park. Families milling in a vague line, waiting for sausages and burgers from the open grill. Women in checked blouses scooting into their boyfriends’ sides, kids tossing eucalyptus buttons at the feral-looking chickens that overran the strip. These long-haired girls seemed to glide above all that was happening around them, tragic and separate. Like royalty in exile.
I studied the girls with a shameless, blatant gape: it didn’t seem possible that they might look over and notice me. My hamburger was forgotten in my lap, the breeze blowing in minnow stink from the river. It was an age when I’d immediately scan and rank other girls, keeping up a constant tally of how I fell short, and I saw right away that the black-haired one was the prettiest. I had expected this, even before I’d been able to make out their faces. There was a suggestion of otherworldliness hovering around her, a dirty smock dress barely covering her ass. She was flanked by a skinny redhead and an older girl, dressed with the same shabby afterthought. As if dredged from a lake. All their cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. They were messing with an uneasy threshold, prettiness and ugliness at the same time, and a ripple of awareness followed them through the park. Mothers glancing around for their children, moved by some feeling they couldn’t name. Women reaching for their boyfriends’ hands. The sun spiked through the trees, like always—the drowsy willows, the hot wind gusting over the picnic blankets—but the familiarity of the day was disturbed by the path the girls cut across the regular world. Sleek and thoughtless as sharks breaching the water.
It was the end of the sixties, or the summer before the end, and that’s what it seemed like, an endless, formless summer. The Haight populated with white-garbed Process members handing out their oat-colored pamphlets, the jasmine along the roads that year blooming particularly heady and full. Everyone was healthy, tan, and heavy with decoration, and if you weren’t, that was a thing, too—you could be some moon creature, chiffon over the lamp shades, on a kitchari cleanse that stained all your dishes with turmeric.
But that was all happening somewhere else, not in Petaluma with its low-hipped ranch houses, the covered wagon perpetually parked in front of the Hi-Ho Restaurant. The sun-scorched crosswalks. I was fourteen but looked much younger. People liked to say this to me. Connie swore I could pass for sixteen, but we told each other a lot of lies. We’d been friends all through junior high, Connie waiting for me outside classrooms as patient as a cow, all our energy subsumed into the theatrics of friendship. She was plump but didn’t dress like it, in cropped cotton shirts with Mexican embroidery, too-tight skirts that left an angry rim on her upper thighs. I’d always liked her in a way I never had to think about, like the fact of my own hands.
Come September, I’d be sent off to the same boarding school my mother had gone to. They’d built a well-tended campus around an old convent in Monterey, the lawns smooth and sloped. Shreds of fog in the mornings, brief hits of the nearness of salt water. It was an all-girls school, and I’d have to wear a uniform—low-heeled shoes and no makeup, middy blouses threaded with navy ties. It was a holding place, really, enclosed by a stone wall and populated with bland, moon-faced daughters. Camp Fire Girls and Future Teachers shipped off to learn 160 words a minute, shorthand. To make dreamy, overheated promises to be one another’s bridesmaids at Royal Hawaiian weddings.
My impending departure forced a newly critical distance on my friendship with Connie. I’d started to notice certain things, almost against my will. How Connie said, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else,” as if we were shopgirls in London instead of inexperienced adolescents in the farm belt of Sonoma County. We licked batteries to feel a metallic jolt on the tongue, rumored to be one-eighteenth of an orgasm. It pained me to imagine how our twosome appeared to others, marked as the kind of girls who belonged to each other. Those sexless fixtures of high schools.
Every day after school, we’d click seamlessly into the familiar track of the afternoons. Waste the hours at some industrious task: following Vidal Sassoon’s suggestions for raw egg smoothies to strengthen hair or picking at blackheads with the tip of a sterilized sewing needle. The constant project of our girl selves seeming to require odd and precise attentions.
As an adult, I wonder at the pure volume of time I wasted. The feast and famine we were taught to expect from the world, the countdowns in magazines that urged us to prepare thirty days in advance for the first day of school.
Day 28: Apply a face mask of avocado and honey.
Day 14: Test your makeup look in different lights (natural, office, dusk).
Back then, I was so attuned to attention. I dressed to provoke love, tugging my neckline lower, settling a wistful stare on my face whenever I went out in public that implied many deep and promising thoughts, should anyone happen to glance over. As a child, I had once been part of a charity dog show and paraded around a pretty collie on a leash, a silk bandanna around its neck. How thrilled I’d been at the sanctioned performance: the way I went up to strangers and let them admire the dog, my smile as indulgent and constant as a salesgirl’s, and how vacant I’d felt when it was over, when no one needed to look at me anymore.
I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you—the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.
Adapted from THE GIRLS by Emma Cline. Copyright © 2016 by Emma Cline. Reprinted by arrangement with Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

Emma Cline was the winner of The Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize in 2014. She is from California.

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The Girls 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 53 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put it down. An Excellent story that is very well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book. It was the first book in some time that I couldn't put down. While the plot tip toes around a Manson family type story, it is not the focus.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While the premise was great, the book was less than thrilling. It only mildly held my interest and the climax wasn't a climax. I was really excited but this book let me down .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Depressing with no rescue from dark place the author took me. Sorry that I read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great premise that never really takes off. I had to force myself to finish it. Pass it up if you are looking for a book that explores cults or elaborates on its members. The protagonist was a boring, characters were never fully fleshed out. Waste of time and money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I almost stopped reading a few times
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book had great potential but didn't go anywhere. The secondary storyline with Sasha ended up bein completely worthless and the ending was pointless. Complete waste of time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what the point of flashing back and forth from 1969 to present was. I guess that's popular now as it's been done in the majority of the bike I've recently read. But in this book, why? To show she still thinks about it I guess. I DO like how she's a bit of a disconnected child looking for something real. Evening pretty or easy seems like a poster or painting or cartoon. I can relate to this part .
I_Have_Blue_Roses More than 1 year ago
This is the first book I've ever encountered that reads like my diary entries as a teenage girl. It so perfectly captures the self-consciousness and desperate need to belong to something greater and more dangerous than the mundane world. How every move of your body is posed to attract a certain attention: how I read into the words of some crush, searching each syllable of his words for flickers of meaning that were probably never even there. This novel is beautiful, uncomfortable, and wistful. Everyone has a summer, or a moment, or a person that they just can't seem to shake or move past. I adore this book and look forward to more stories from Emma Cline.
Stephen_Sottolano More than 1 year ago
This is Emma Cline's first novel so it's apropos that it's narrator sounds like she's telling her story as if it's the only thing that's ever happened to her. In fact, we know she's told it a lot because her lexicon sounds forced at times through the use of inappropriately lofty words. But who 'am I kidding? I only wish I had the command of such language. Anyhow, Cline's narrator, Evie Boyd, tells a coming of age story that's full of the familiar angst experienced by teenage girls everywhere. Except this time is the summer of 1969, and the place is in California among some dropout kids who've hooked up with a Charles Manson-like character. Imagine one of Mason's young family members writes her memoir of this era and you have this book. In spite of this, or perhaps because of it, Cline is able to explore the dark power of attraction and hormones that makes all of our lives helter-skelter at times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hands down the worst book I've read this year. Overrated and painfully boring. Every female character is pathetic and every male is a creep. Give me a break.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fantastic, thought-provoking, immersive book. This is the best book I've read in a long time, and I read a lot. The prose is stunning, the storyline is utterly fascinating, and I cannot stop thinking about the main character and the arc her life took and how it was affected by that one summer.
Desifox66 More than 1 year ago
A familiar tale of the coming of age and the loss of innocence, Emma Cline's novel is ably written and entertaining. Exploring the dynamic of gender relationships and the blossoming of womanhood Cline chose a unique background. The infamous Manson family cult and murders. Intelligent and suspenseful, the story is told from the perspective of Evie, an adolescent and tangential member of a hippie cult in the summer of 1969, but don't worry, this isn't a nostalgic homage to that era, nor is it an elegy to sixties idealism. It's a story that evokes our basic longings for true love and companionship. Evie is on the verge of anew phase in her life., it's the summer before boarding school begins and Evie's domestic life is fluid and strained as her recently divorced mother pursues and retinue of potential suitors along with the latest dietary fads. Evies' father lives with a hip younger woman who is closer in age and attitude to Evie herself than her father. Evie's is even recently estranged from her lifelong childhood friend, Connie. But for Evie it will be Susanne who will make the Summer of 1969 her defining age. Enjoy this book for what it is and try to remember that person and that summer that defined your your life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I give three stars because the visual imagery is fantastic. I felt like there were a few moments that weren't needed and felt like the author was trying to service a young, hot blooded audience in stead of just writing about the psychological roller coaster the protagonist was enduring. The protagonist seems relatable in the fact that she is a teenager but I was not interested in reading about a fourteen year old having sex with much older men. It was uncomfortable and didn't contribute to the plot at all. When the infamous scene the main character kept building up to haporned, at the very very end, it seemed like the author got bored and pieced the murder scene together. She made the protagonist cold and unmoving towards the end. If I knew a bunch of people who murdered innocents for stupid revenge I would have to see a shrink. It doesn't seem normal for the character to go on with her life as she did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
B O R I N G! Read 50 pages then gave up. I rarely give up on a book, but this book is unreadable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I wanted to love this book, I really did, but it just fell so flat for me. I didn't feel it lived up to the hype. While I feel Emma Cline is a great writer, I didn't feel she was an exceptional or special story teller. This novel was more or a coming of age story rather than a thriller. It was not at all what I was expecting. I kept reading, waiting for the big moment, and it just simply never came. While I did read the book fast, it wasn't because I was that into it, it was more that I was waiting to get into it, waiting for the big moment, which was never delivered to the reader. I am left with more questions than I am answers. I don't understand all of the hype surrounding this book. My suggestion: pick up a different book for your Summer read and stick this one on the shelf for a rainy day when you have nothing better to do.
tarync More than 1 year ago
Disappointed ! How Ms Cline got 2million for this manuscript is mind boggling to me. I was expecting something original and unique instead I wasted my time on a book written by a young woman clearly over her head! It felt like she read ,Helter Skelter, took psych 101 and adolescent psych and thought she could pull this off. I then read she has well connected wealthy parents and then it all made sense. If you are compelled to read this get it at the library - don't waste your money like I did! I will say that the cover art deserves 5 stars!
Anonymous 3 days ago
This was a depressing look at wasted lives with no real resolutions to problems. True life stories can be as sad but one expects some results from writing a story of this kind.
Anonymous 12 months ago
Waste of time and money. NOT impressed
toniFMAMTC More than 1 year ago
I can see how many won't like this book, but I found it interesting. It sort of rambles and bit and talks around what happened instead of about it as much. It's more inside the lead's head than showing these horrible facts that many may be looking to find in a story of a cult that commits murder. It's a think piece. She seems like so many other teens. Many are looking to find their place. They want to reject the things happening around them and find their people. They're so vulnerable and form attachments so easily. Even though she doesn't actually participate in the actual murders, she can't say that she wouldn't have, and she doesn't hate the ones that did. And now as an adult, she sees teens in just the same spot mentally that she was. It's just interesting to me how the average can turn into horrific.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I got the Manson'ish vibe when I looked at this in the store and yea turned out to be that type of book - so disappointed. Not a compelling book and choppy to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LookingForGoodBooks More than 1 year ago
Sick - not in a good way. A lot of open questions, Not a good ending. Prose is good... needed to say something positive. Won't be looking for anything good in the future from this author.
dutcheja More than 1 year ago
I eagerly waited for this book to come out. I have been intrigued by the Manson stories for a very long time and have read just about everything there is out there on the crimes, Charles Manson and the Manson followers. Unfortunately this book didn't work for me. I had a very hard time getting in to it, I thought it moved very slow and I just couldn't connect with the characters. The story switches back and forth between back then and now and that didn't work for me either.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cline is a remarkably insightful, deep,knoweledgble,writer.although at times her prose is too elaborate and symbolism too personal her writing is poetic,original and often surprising! I was riveted and couldn,the stop readind.i can.t xwait for her next book!