The Girls (Are Angry) by Emma Cline (audiobook)

the girls review

When I saw The Girls popping up everywhere, I had no idea of the hype behind this book. Debut author Emma Cline was given buckets of money for her fictionalized version of the Manson family. Not knowing this, I wondered what the hub-bub was about.

The Girls begins with now middle aged Evie staying at a friend's summer home. Her solitude is interrupted by the appearance of her host's son and his girlfriend. The girl seems to be much younger than the guy, and a little in awe of him. The young man brags to his girlfriend that Evie was once part of a murderous cult that was responsible for the deaths of four people, including a five year old boy.

It's a startling revelation. Is Evie someone to be trusted?

The story then switches to a fourteen year old Evie in the summer of 1969. Her parents just divorced, her dad living with a young girlfriend, her mom trying to "find herself" through gurus and new men, Evie is left to her own devices. She spends most of her time getting high with her only friend, Connie, until they have a falling out.

Evie becomes enamoured with an older girl named Suzanne who she meets in a park where Suzanne and some other girls are rummaging through trash for food. There is something about her that appeals to Evie. There's a savageness underneath her beautiful surface that speaks to the anger within the fourteen year old.

Evie attaches herself to the group. They take her to the ranch where Russell, the man that "takes care" of them brought the group. He does very little other than spout a bunch of nonsense and play guitar, but they hang on his every word. Evie goes along with whatever Russell wants, but it's Suzanne that she really follows. For Evie, there is freedom underneath the dirt and squalor of the ranch. It's a paradise of easy sex and drugs, where everyone shares and no one owns anything or anyone- except Russell, that is.

After a series of disappointments, tensions start to rise at the ranch. How far will Evie go to fit in?

It was a shaky start for me when I read the first couple of chapters. I didn't like the spoiled Evie, her parents, her parents awful friends, or the assholes Evie hung out with. I realize now that this is the point, but at the time I had enough of them. I set it aside for a few days.

I picked it up again and the story became more interesting once Evie meets Suzanne. She must have been desperate for attention to see past the squalor. They lived such a different life from Evie with her comforts... like plumbing. Evie is a rich girl and the group quickly learn how to exploit her. Evie would give them anything, just to feel she belongs.

It's more complex than that even. Evie feels a sort of new power. She feels that she has some control over her life. She lies, she learns to manipulate, she does things that would shock her parents. Being with the girls is exhilarating.

Everyday is a hippie dance party

After reading The Girls, I started listening to the Charles Manson's Hollywood episodes of You Must Remember This. It's as if Cline took the real events wrote them on cards and picked from the deck to plot the novel. Some of it is dead on, some tweaked slightly, and some left out altogether. I did not find Russell to be as much of a compelling character as his real life counterpart. And maybe Evie didn't either. For her it was all Suzanne.

Russell and his ambitions are in the background. Although the girls follow him, underneath is a rage at the world and the small humiliations of being female. In a way, I was reminded of that scene in The Handmaid's Tale where the handmaids attack the rapist instead of their captors. There is a misplaced anger that turns to violence in both novels. If someone can harness a woman's rage, look out!

If you are thinking of reading The Girls, I would tell you that this isn't just another murder-cult story. It's a coming of age story gone bad, a story of girlhood and womanhood. If you hate the first few chapters, hang in there. I think it's worth it.

About the Audio: Cady McClain narrates The Girls. My favorite parts were of the hippie girls' dialogue and their far-out inflections, especially when they are talking to a square who just doesn't get it, "Jeeeeeeeeesus." They're just, like, on a whole other plain, man. 
Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

The Girls


  1. Oooh - interesting comparison to The Handmaid's Tale. I can kind of see that! And now you have me wanting to listen to You Must Remember This. I did Google the real Manson events after finishing the book and it seems that Cline might have combined the personalities of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and Roman Polanski into the rock star in the book (I now can't remember his name!).

    1. It's a long series but so good! I think it was Mitch (???) I can't remember now.

  2. Hahaha, I mean, it's not like I wouldn't read just another murder-cult story. I am mildly obsessed with cults and always want to read good fictional versions of them, or also hear any stories anyone in my orbit has about encounters with real life cults. They are just so STRANGE, cults, aren't they?

    1. So weird! Manson told his followers they were going to live in an underground city for possibly hundreds of years until after the coming race war. Some of them started to clue in when he couldn't find it. Also the drugs ran out. So, if you want to have a successful cult, have a constant supply of drugs, I guess!

  3. I am looking forward to this. The reviews all have been pretty positive and I have a copy on its way to me. :)

  4. I have read more non fiction books about Charles Manson and his family than I care to admit, so I am excited to read this one but also nervous that I will be nit picky.

  5. I wasn't going to read this one - too much hype. Plus I am tired that there are so many books out now with "girl(s)" in the title. But cults are fascinating to read about! I didn't know much about the Mansion family so there is that appeal too

  6. It is the anger that I absolutely love about this novel. Evie's revelation at the end on just how far she could have gone/would have gone? Brilliant.


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