Summer is flying by at an uncomfortably fast pace, which means we’re already halfway through #TheEverygirlReads 2016 challenge. Can you believe it? In case you’re joining late, #TheEverygirlReads is a challenge encouraging you to read at least one book per month in 2016. If you’ve missed a few months or haven’t started the challenge, it’s not too late: Join in whenever you can! Need book suggestions? See more #TheEverygirlReads reviews here.
Set in the summer of 1969, The Girls follows 14-year-old Evie as she becomes enveloped in the family and frenzy of a murderous cult (which is not-so-subtly inspired by the Charles Manson clan). I pre-ordered this book with high, high expectations: It was already a New York Times darling, topping all the must-read charts before its June launch.
It didn’t disappoint, but it surprised me in the way it succeeded. Considering the historical events on which the book is based, I’d expected plenty of action-heavy scenes packed with gore and grit and fear. Instead, the story moved forward slowly; lethargic, like the summer it was set in, with surprisingly little attention placed on the cult’s heinous acts. Gorgeous, sometimes overwritten prose hangs on a thin plot, but the book stayed compulsively readable; I tore through it in just a few days.
Evie’s honesty about girlhood forced me to revisit adolescent anxiety in ways I never expected.
Our protagonist tells two stories across two timelines: one as an adult and one as a 14-year-old girl. The back-and-forth makes you feel like an omniscient spectator in her story; with adult Evie, you can see the train wreck about to let loose, but little Evie is blind to it, vulnerable and desperate for love in a way that opens her up to the worst kind of danger. You want to reach in, shake some sense into her, and lock her in her room until she’s legal.
Evie’s honesty about girlhood forced me to revisit adolescent anxiety in ways I never expected. Sometimes I’d even have to take a break, put the book down for an hour or two, because I would relate to her inner dialogue so strongly it sent me into a panic. And Evie’s inner dialogue is, by far, the best thing about the book. We are presented with a character that is humanly flawed in a way only a teen can be—anxious, obsessive, hungry for attention, curious, eager to please and be pleased.
Like I was, once. Like I still am sometimes.
The Girls is dark. It will punch you in the gut, it will make your eyes snap wide open in disgust.
“I waited to be told what was good about me,” Evie said of her youth. “All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you—the boys had spent that time becoming themselves.”
The Girls is dark. It will punch you in the gut, it will make your eyes snap wide open in disgust. But you should read it. You should read it because too rarely is the world gifted with a book where women and girls get to be full-bodied versions of themselves, rather than underwritten plot devices of little consequence. Too rarely are girls both the heroes and villains of their own stories.
For the month of August, I’ll be reading Modern Lovers by Emma Straub.
Readers fell in love with Straub after she published The Vacationers (a beach read if there ever was one) and I’m hoping her next novel will be a fun one to round out my summer.