2017 Reading List: The Girls by Emma Cline

I’ve seen The Girls, by Emma Cline, on a lot of book lists lately. It’s been on the front tables of Barnes & Noble and mentioned by fellow bloggers. So I put it on my list to download and finally got the chance to read it.

This book is the story of a young teenager, Evie, who becomes infatuated with a group of girls who live together on a ranch as a sort of cult in 1969.

This book is really a depiction of Evie and her character. It is less about the actual plot and more about who this 14-year-old girl is and how she comes of age in a year, or a decade really, where children were introduced to some evils of the world at far too young an age.

Evie has a lot of struggles in her life. Her parents are divorced, her mother is dating men she doesn’t like, and therefore her mother doesn’t really have time for her the way she used to. Her friendships are fraying, if not broken entirely. She is preparing to go to boarding school for the first time in the fall. And through all this, she is trying to figure out where she belongs, who she can connect with, and how she can fit in. She doesn’t have a whole lot of role models or even friends to help her navigate. There is no one who is looking out for her- not even the girls whom she comes to worship with such wild abandon. 

She doesn’t seem to fit in in her current life, but she sees an older girl who exudes a confidence and a presence that she lacks but still desires. She forms this odd connection with the girl, Suzanne, who becomes a sort of role model. But the connection seems to be mostly one-sided, and more of an infatuation than any real friendship.

Suzanne has a life that Evie thinks she wants to live. She lives on a ranch with a bunch of other girls, guided and supported by one dominant man and his lackey. The air is that of a religion, but it could also be viewed as drug and alcohol coated propaganda. Their overarching theme is to love everyone and own nothing. They all have sex with their overseer. They all do drugs. None of them have a real job, and none of them really make any money. They steal, lie and cheat to get what they need. But don’t worry, their foundation is built on love.

I think Evie is not so infatuated with the actual lifestyle – she is introduced to all kinds of drugs, sex, and crime that she never would have been involved with otherwise – and more so infatuated with Suzanne’s demeanor and the way these girls make her feel. On the ranch, Evie feels like she can fit in. She feels accepted, encouraged and supported. She feels more valued here, where they value nothing, than she does at home.

But Evie is never quite fully immersed in the group. She always gets to go home. She says she wants to be with them, she finds herself feeling freer and lighter when she is at the ranch, but she never fully commits. Her time there is like a sleepover with a friend. She gets to experience a piece of their life for a bit, but she always has the protection of knowing that she has parents to catch her if she screws up. She has a real home to go to if all else fails. She steals and breaks into houses and does drugs, but it’s like she’s playing dress-up.

She even tells the guy who picks her up when she’s hitchhiking all about the ranch, about how amazing their lifestyle is, about how freeing their values of love and acceptance are, about how wonderful their Russell is. It’s like she needs to be able to tell this story, to feel like she’s better than other people because she discovered it. She’s looking for the validation of an outsider because I think she doesn’t quite believe everything she’s saying. I think that deep down, under the oppressive love and hazy drug-induced stupor, she knows that this is not any way to live. I think she knows that the ranch is really just a group of dirty squatters, thieves and homeless women who have nothing but tantalizing words and a bag full of weed.

Evie is so vulnerable she can’t help but fall for it.

At the end of the book, Evie questions her true values. She wonders whether she might actually have been able to join the group when they commit their murderous deed. She is trying to tell herself that the group pushed her out of the car before they murdered people because they knew she was different and that she was good, unlike them. She tries to tell herself that she believes that, that had she been there she would have stopped them. But she ultimately tells herself that she would have joined right in. She ultimately believes that she is capable of murder.  She believes that after having spent time with them, there is a part of her that was dormant and was brought to life. There is a part of her that belongs with them.

But I don’t believe Evie. She says she could kill people, but I don’t think she could. I think that the fact that she couldn’t commit to the cult 100% the whole summer shows that she was never meant to be there. She was never meant to be one of the girls.

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