{Review}: The Girls

The Girls, out from Random House on June 14th, left me with the nagging feeling of familiarity. I’m only 36, so it’s not because I lived the heyday of the 60s and 70s. Set in Northern California, at the end of the 1960’s, Evie’s story hits all the hallmarks of teenage angst– friend drama, divorcing parents, sexual awareness, self-consciousness and endless navel-gazing.  But it has this particular heady sheen that seems gloss over anything set in the 60s and 70s.

We begin with two backstories: an introduction to the novel’s antagonists, a roaming band of gypsies that capture Evie’s bored imagination, and we get a glimpse into a sensational ending. From there, we go back to the beginning: Evie’s life fraying at the edges, her father out the door with a younger woman and her mother taking benign neglect to a whole new level.

After awhile, I began to realize where the familiarity came from. Last year, I read We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves, and The Interestings. Both of these books are about angsty adolescents in the 60s and 70s, and they convey that same sort of dream-like quality, a looseness that comes from an age where things were just plain weird and everyone was high and figuring out how to be liberated, in mind and in body.

Not that I have a problem with that. It works for this book. Evie has a lost summer before being shipped off to boarding school, taking up with the members of a cult living in a run-down house in a remote place. Her mother is too busy finding herself a man, and her father…well, her father is doing his own thing too, so where does that leave Evie?

Left to her own devices, Evie learns a thing or two about herself through compare and contrast, and developing a low-level sense of self-loathing, ashamed of her privilege. Her vulnerability is ruthlessly exploited as she tries to convince herself that she belongs. The shocking events at the end of her lost summer disabuses her of that notion.

When we meet Evie, she is in her 60s, approaching 70, revisiting some hazy time when she was 14 and it was the 60s in California, and some crazy stuff was going down and how did she even get swept up in all of it? But now her life is sad, lonely, aimless. And I can see her so vividly, thanks to Emma Cline’s gift for drawing characters with words that evoke a forlorn, pathetic mood, a kind of grayness over everything, even in sunny, bright, optimistic California.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.}