A Wonderful, Terrible Sex Cult: The Girls by Emma Cline (4 Stars)

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Read This Book If You Like: Crime dramas, Books about Sex Cults, Human Psychology, Non-traditional coming of age novels, Strong female voice/characters, Historical Fiction

This Book is Good For: A strong fiction read, a slow weekend

Anybody who knows me well knows that I hate thrillers and crime novels. I often have trouble getting into the story and find myself less than intrigued by the characters and the plot. However, the Girls by Emma Cline is a good mixture of both combined with spectacular literary writing and character building. I first picked up this novel a couple of months ago and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I’m so glad I finally took the time to read it! For a debut author, this is a great novel and a wonderful start. I’m so excited to read more by Emma Cline in the future.

The Girls follow the story of 14 year old Evie as she becomes involved in a hippie sex cult in the 1960s. The story is told from the perspective of an older Evie, probably now in her 40s, as she reflects on her involvement in the sexual abuse and terrible crimes the cult committed. This novel is highly focused on the female experience, specifically adolescence and how girls come to understand their place in the world. Evie’s realizations about her life, family, and friends reminded me of my own and felt so real and relatable. Cline sets up her character well, and by the time she’s inducted into the cult, you understand why. Her writing is dripping with sexual tension and the hopeless, youthful infatuation of first love. Once again, I related to her infatuation and her later realization of how bad things actually were. Evie reads so young, yet watched over by her older self with more critical eyes. We find out interesting snippets of information throughout the novel to build suspense at the right moments. The best part of the novel is the normalcy in which the ultra-disturbing is portrayed. From the sexual abuse of minors to drugs and the graphic depictions of murder, Cline doesn’t shy away and it suits her well.

The framing of this novel was interesting, but I felt that it at times took away from the more interesting story. I like the idea of the framing device, I’m just not sure the events in Evie’s adult life quite match up to her 14 year old life. I would have rather had the novel tell the story through Evie recounting the book to a friend or maybe writing from prison. Maybe even writing a tell-all memoir? I’m not sure, but I wasn’t incredibly interested in Evie’s adult life and I thought that the ending was slightly anti-climatic, although I still enjoyed it. The thing that really stood out for me in this novel were specific passages. Cline describes things in a really unique way that I’ve never quite encountered before. I think that this paragraph sums up the novel well:

“Poor Sasha. Poor girls. The world fattens them on the promise of love. How badly they need it, and how little most of them will ever get. The treacled pop songs, the dresses described in catalogs with words like “sunset” and “Paris.” Then the dreams are taken away with such violent force; the hand wrenching the buttons of jeans, nobody looking at the man shouting at this girlfriend on the bus. Sorrow for Sashina locked up my throat.” (Page 149).