Emma Cline’s The Girls is a coming-of-age story inspired by the infamous Manson Family murders. The novel is set in Northern Carolina in the late 1960s. Its main character is Evie Boyd, a youthful recruit to a dangerous cult. Evie, naive and hopeful, is disillusioned by her friends’ obsession with boys and makeup. Unhappy both at school and home, she romanticizes the lives of the girls “at the ranch,” a ramshackle commune outside of town. She becomes a dedicated cult member of the cult. However, she’s ultimately rejected on the night that the cult commits a series of gruesome murders.
Evie narrates her story with the perspective of several decades. Chapters alternate between her teenage memories and her mundane adult life. Recent events, particularly a conversation with the teenage girlfriend of her friend’s adult son, force her to consider her role in the cult’s depravity. Was she a victim or a perpetrator? Would she have participated in the murders if allowed? The novel leans toward “yes”, particularly as it deals heavily with Evie’s fascination with Suzanne, the cult’s most dedicated and mysterious member. Evie’s dedication to Suzanne is a provocative take on female loyalty and friendship; Evie would do anything for Suzanne, potentially even to the extent of murder.
The Girls received critical praise. In The LA Times, Kate Tuttle wrote that Cline brings a “fresh and discerning eye to both the specific, horrific crime at her book’s center.” However, some reviewers criticized its flowery prose; as James Wood of the New Yorker writes,“On every other page, it seems, there is something remarkable,” yet it can be “overwritten, flashing rather than lighting.”