The Girls

The Girls

by Emma Cline
3.2 61

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Overview

The Girls by Emma Cline

Girls—their vulnerability, strength, and passion to belong—are at the heart of this stunning first novel for readers of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad.
 
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.
 
Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.

Advance praise for The Girls
 
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’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
 
“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

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812998603
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/14/2016
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 503,969
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

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

Read an Excerpt

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.
 
1
 
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.

Reading Group Guide

1. The Girls takes place in the summer of 1969. When Evie explains the era to Sasha, she says “It was a different time … Everyone ran around” (144). Do you think that what happened to Evie could have only happened in the 1960s? Or is her story a timeless story? How might her story be different, if it happened today?

2. One of the central relationships in The Girls is between Evie and Suzanne. What did you make of their connection? The first time they meet, Suzanne is hesitant to let Evie come along (94-95). Does she sense something about Evie from the very beginning? What might it be?

3. Evie describes the “constant project of our girl selves” and the specific attentions that project requires—the make-up, the grooming rituals. Did you see a parallel in Evie’s mother’s behavior? What are the similarities and differences between Evie’s “constant project” and her mother’s new search for “an aim, a plan”?

4. 1. In looking back at the time before her parents got divorced, Evie describes “the freedom of being so young that no one expected anything from me” (78). Do you think that freedom still exists when she is a teenager—or has it already disappeared? Why might that sense of freedom start to vanish, as she gets older?

5. Evie delineates the difference between the attention girls can get from boys, and the attention they can get from other girls: “Girls are the only ones who can really give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved” (34). What do you make of this? Is something all of the girls in this story are aware of, consciously or unconsciously? Do you think it holds true forever, or does it change as girls grow older?

6. At the same time, though, Evie says that she “didn’t really believe friendship could be an end in itself, not just the background fuzz to the dramatics of boys loving you or not loving you” (49). How does this notion change and evolve as the story goes on? Do you consider Evie’s relationship with Suzanne to be a friendship, or something different?

7. Evie is constantly sizing up other girls and women, measuring their beauty and assessing them “with brutal and emotionless judgment” (34). But Suzanne, she decides, “wasn’t beautiful … It was something else” (68). How does this complicate her understanding of, or attraction to, Suzanne? Is beauty something that is valued by Russell, Suzanne and others, in the world of the ranch?

8. What did you make of Evie’s dynamic with Sasha? What similarities to—and differences from—her teenage self might Evie see in Sasha? Why do you think Evie tells Sasha so much about her past?

9. Why do you think Evie decides to mess with Teddy Dutton, when she brings his dog back to his house? Does she have a newfound feeling of power, after spending time at the ranch? Do you think that interaction with Teddy paves the way for her and the girls’ later intrusion into the Dutton house?

10. Were you surprised by the character of Tamar, and her relationship with Evie? How does Tamar differ from the other girls and women in the story—from Suzanne, from Connie, from Evie’s mother?

11. Looking back, Evie questions whether she might have known what Suzanne and the others were planning, and whether she would have participated: “Maybe I would have done something, too. Maybe it would have been easy” (321). Do you think Evie would have gone through with it, if she had stayed in the car? Why, or why not?

12. At the end, Evie describes Suzanne letting her go as “a gift” (351), allowing Evie to have the normal life that Suzanne herself could not. But she reflects that it might have been easier to be punished and redeemed, as Suzanne was. What did you make of Evie’s still-conflicted feelings about that chapter in her life? Would it ever be possible for someone in Evie’s situation to make peace with the past? If so, what do you think prevents her from doing so?

Customer Reviews

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The Girls 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 61 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
Depressing with no rescue from dark place the author took me. Sorry that I read it.
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
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 10 days ago
It was okay. The author obviously used The Manson Family as the "inspiration" for the story. Very familiar story lines.
Anonymous 7 months ago
Unintriguing read.
Anonymous 7 months ago
This book should have been 50 pages shorter and no reason to time jump from 1969 to modern day. It was just blah.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great insight into the mind of young, impressionable girls and why they might tumble into a life of a cult style group. The author beautifully captures the vulnerabilty of the main character ant though the storyline is loosely based on the manson family, it is more about why young women are drawn in by charismatic personalities. A good read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good plot, story, hated the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked the book overall, but the ending was so disappointing. Not the worst book I've ever read but certainly not one of the best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Disappointed with the plot and lack of character study.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The author is exceptionally gifted