I received this book for review purposes from NetGalley. While I do not have to give a positive review, I do have to make the reader aware that I was given a review copy. Consider yourself made aware.
I am going to start my review of The Girls by Emma Cline with an analogy.
I just don't get jazz music. When I am listening to it, I can hear the beauty within the notes, I can hear the skill behind the music, and I can appreciate the music for what it is, but to actually sit down and listen to a jazz album by myself probably will not happen. In jazz, there are parts that I don't get. Some people love it when there is disharmony or odd notes, but I find them kind of distracting. It is why I don't get jazz music.
The Girls was a jazz album in book form, for me.
I was very excited about this book and it kept coming up on my Amazon recommendations. The premise was what got me- a fourteen year old girl, Evie, falls into a Charles Manson like group during the summer of 1969 after her attraction to one of the girls in the group- Suzanne. Evie falls under the spell of the group's leader- Russell, who is excited about a record deal with Mitch- a famous guitarist for a popular rock band. The group winds up getting arrested for the brutal murder of a caretaker, a child, and two women.
It is also the story of grown up Evie, who is living in a borrowed house, when the son-Julian of the owner of the house comes in with his girlfriend- Sasha. The opening of each of the three parts of the book tells this ongoing story as Evie sees a bit of herself in Sasha and how Julian is coercing Sasha to do things she might not want to do.
While reading the first few pages of the book, the writing was incredibly distracting. There was great skill in the writing and I could see that, but there was just something a bit off that as soon as I would get into a rhythm, the writing would throw me off once again. This would happen regularly throughout the book.
The odd thing was I knew that some people would love this style of writing and would be a main attraction for many people. This is why it was like jazz for me. There is definitely skill behind the writing and for about 80% of the book, I was right along with it, but every now and then a sentence or a paragraph would pull me out of the experience because I had to re-read or simply pass over the words because they interrupted the flow of the book.
The other reason why it was like jazz to me, was I kept coming back to Evie's age. Evie is a complicated character in that she is now an adult looking back at her childhood and the entire narrative is from her adult point of view.
Evie's parents are divorced. Her father has run away with a younger woman and her mother is dating a guy who Evie does not like. Evie's friend Connie has abandoned her for another friend and Evie is feeling alone in the world. She is also confused sexually. She has a crush on a boy, but enjoys looking at old Playboys and finds herself sexually attracted to the women within the pages. It is this attraction that draws her to Suzanne who is carefree and knows who she is. Evie is both sexually attracted to Suzanne and drawn to her self-assuredness.
Evie is 14 years old. She says she passes for 16, but she is 14. As I was reading about Evie and how she falls into the freedom of Russell's group, I kept coming back to her age.
Throughout the story, Evie takes drugs like crazy, drinks, has a three way, and is also forced to have sex with several men. She disappears from her mother's house for days at a time, yet her mother doesn't seem to notice at all. Part of that is because she tells her mother she is going to Connie's house daily, but after a few weeks of this, one would think her mother would have a note of concern and the Connie excuse would not hold water.
Her age was a major distraction for me, especially since the adult Evie is pretty much unharmed by these experiences she had at 14 with the exception she keep thinking someone is coming for her. If she were 16, 17, or 18, her age wouldn't have been a sticking point for me, but a 14 year old is a middle schooler and not a high schooler. I am sure there are some wild 14 year olds. In 1969, I don't think even the swinging 60s would have allowed a 14 year old to have the experiences Evie had. Someone in the group would have noticed that Evie was still a child. At one moment Suzanne seems to awaken to this, but at that point Evie has gone through everything described above.
Finally, another jazz moment. We know, as readers that the murders are coming- the opening of the book points us in this direction. By the time the murders do happen, I wasn't into the book anymore and wanted it to end. Part of me wished the murders happened somewhere in the beginning of part 3, so we can see an Evie, who has now had these experiences, deal with the idea that the group she was a part of brutally murdered people. What was the fallout for Evie? How did she deal with it? What happened as she witnessed the trial go on? What was it like to see Russell and Suzanne on TV? What happened to her mentally? It could have been a chance to see a deeper character development for Evie, but we don't get that story. Evie goes on with life in private school and has a semi normal life.
Recognizing this is my longest review to date, I have to say I enjoyed much of the experience of reading this book. I am glad I read it and I think the story drew me in at times. Evie's age and some of the language of the book drew me out of book many times to the point of distraction- you are reading about statutory rape several times without any mention of it. Overall, I gave this book 3.5 stars for the two reasons listed above, but I know there will be people who love this book.
Here is the Amazon link- The Girls by Emma Cline.