The Girls by Emma Cline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm somewhere between 3 and 4 stars with this book, so since I'm in a generous mood (and since the last few books I read weren't exactly mind-blowing), I'm going to round up.
The writing in this book is good. Emma Cline is a master of details (both sensory and otherwise), being intentional and precise with what she says and doesn't say. Her words paint a vivid picture of specific characters living in a very tangible time and place . . . at least in the portions of the book that tell the story of how one young girl came to be mixed up in what I suppose is a hippie cult. The real story of the book. The only story that I cared about.
I've read a lot of books that flip between past and present, some which do it effectively, and some which don't. I fully understand Cline's decision here to couch the "real" story being told in flashback; she must do so in order to allow her narrator, Evie, to reflect on the events with insight. However, the "present" story is not compelling at all, and each time the story jumps between past and present, the reader is left to flounder for a few sentences, trying to find their footing in the chronology of whichever story is now being told. For me, these awkward moments jerked me out of the story, and it always took a few pages for Cline to pull me back under her spell.
Nevertheless, I did find the core elements of this book--a coming-of-age story; a story of confusing adolescent desire bordering on obsession; a story of loneliness; a mystery where the perpetrators are known, the act is implied, and so the true mystery is in how these things came to happen; a story of a cult--very compelling. And so, for any readers who also enjoy these elements and are willing to be patient in order to reap the rewards of good, literary writing, I would definitely recommend this book.
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