Pick of the Summer: The Girls

Since joining the fairly new app for bibliophiles, Litsy, I’ve broadened my reading horizons a bit. I’ve tried a few books I normally wouldn’t have picked up (The Martian, Me Before You, and a few others not reviewed on this blog), and I’ve developed an ever-growing list of quotes, insights, and reviews about books I’ve devoured.

The app is wonderful. Think Instagram-meets Goodreads-meets Twitter. You can add books to “stacks” (to be read, or already read), write 451-character reviews (because Ray Bradbury, of course), and add photos and quotes from those marvelous book things that your friends on Facebook might not appreciate but your pals on Litsy surely will.

Anyway.

I saw numerous posts this summer from this vibrantly colored novel with a trippy cover and a simple but memorable title: The Girls, by newcomer Emma Cline. I was both repelled and drawn to the cover — the colors and Warhol-esque imagery are way outside my book-cover-judgement comfort zone. After seeing numerous posts with (mostly) rave reviews on Litsy and finding the hardcover on sale for $15 at a local bookstore, I decided to dive in.

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This photo seems super appropriate for a summer pick: jammies, run-tanned legs, and lots of cushy pillows to recline against. *Big teacher sigh*

The Girls kicks off with some beautiful, if not unconventional, prose. Cline writes in short, sometimes choppy sentences, a feature that several reviewers have touted as a turn-off. Normally, I’d agree: I can’t stand choppy prose. In this case, though, I thought her snippet-y sentence fragments worked. The prose was vivid and it felt very in-the-moment, which made my connection to the storyline that much easier.  

In the first several chapters, Cline had so many quotable passages. I salivated over lines like —

“I waited to be told what was good about me. . . . 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.”

and

“I was quiet, trying to imagine how that would feel: to be so known to someone that you had almost become the same person.”

This writing nuggetry continued over the 300-some pages that comprised The Girls, and I really had to hold myself back when it came to posting on Litsy.

The novel has a feminist feel to it, but not an in-your-f***ing-face vibe. It feels like an honest, raw exploration of the evolution of girl. The story follows a fourteen-year-old named Evie, who is living in California in the late 1960s. Her parents are split, supervision is minimal, and everyone is vibin’ — after all, it is 1969. Evie is the epitome of a blossoming teenage girl: filled to the brim with curiosity and a desire to belong to someone, or somewhere; overwhelmingly insecure and in need of approval; naturally curious about her sexuality and place in the world. These characteristics create the perfect storm for young Evie, who quickly finds herself lured into a cult of grungy, oversexed girls and young women, led by the simultaneously enigmatic and charismatic Russell.

Evie is quickly drawn further into the world of the cult members, who seem to live “honestly” and without the burden of societal norms. Her previously-wholesome life takes a turn down a dark, twisty road of drugs, sex, and identity crisis. While the bulk of the novel centers on Evie’s storied past, these parts are flashbacks; readers are exposed to “modern-day” Evie only a few times in the book, and she seems to be a perfectly confused and guilt-ridden product of her chaotic brush with the wild side.

The novel reads like a spin-off of the Manson murders, which take place the same year. Having had little exposure to the Manson cult’s storied past, I conducted some light research as I read and found many parallels between the characters of the book and the infamous figures of Manson’s murder spree. Some criticized Cline for this parallel; but I chose to focus more on the tale as a representation of the complexities that arise on the path to becoming a woman, and as such, was extremely satisfied with the novel. Also, given my limited knowledge of the time period or murders, I thought the parallel was intriguing and made for a quickly-paced read.

The Girls is a page-turner filled with stark nuggets of truth about the struggles of being a young girl in the 1960s (and 70s, and 80s, and 90s, and so on). My chest began to ache as I followed Evie’s tale and recalled my own floundering efforts to discover myself as a teenager; while I couldn’t relate to the chaotic, drug-infused lifestyle Evie experienced, I could connect to her feelings of uncertainty, inadequacy, and desire — to belong, to be loved, to be woman.

Rating: 5/5 stars, highly recommended.

Review: Me Before You

My mum’s been nagging me for over a year, “Pick up that book by Jojo Moyes. You know, Me Before You. You’ll love it.” I grumbled a bit, dragged my feet several months, and finally caved. [Note: I drag my feet at “trendy” bestsellers, because I often dread the mundane and artless writing that appeals to the masses. Call me a bookish snob if you wish; I accept that criticism.]

After months of repeated demands that I read Moyes’ Me Before You, I picked up a copy at the local Hastings store and settled in for some rare weeknight reading. (Last week of school = very little evening prep work, praise the Lord!) I faltered a bit at the start — My attention span is wonky. How do you do this extended reading thing, again? — but after Zack settled in for an evening on the PS4, I shut off my phone and succumbed to bliss.

The novel starts with a prologue, the only section of the novel told from the perspective of the male lead, Will Traynor. The start is a bit cliché, if I’m going to be quite honest:

Sexy, suave, successful man is on his way to work after a night of wining and dining an equally sexy, suave, successful woman who desires a trip abroad. Man teases woman before heading out the door and onto the crowded streets of London, where he innocently checks messages while simultaneously hailing a cab. Man is hit by oncoming traffic. [End scene.]

At this point in the story, I’m not super invested; but I’ve seen the trailer for the movie and I’ve become quite enamored with Emilia Clarke after her debut as Daenerys Targaryan on HBO’s adaptation of Game of Thrones. I remind myself how badly I want to see this movie, and how much I despise reading books after I’ve seen their film adaptations. Begrudgingly, I overlook Moyes’ somewhat trite beginning and read on.

The story shifts forward two years to the perspective of one Louisa (Lou) Clark, a 26-year-old oddball who lives with her parents and works at the Buttered Bun, a local tea shop, as a waitress. Unfortunately for Lou, her beloved cafe is nearing its demise as a local castle and tourist hotspot opens the doors of its very own restaurant. Lou’s family faces struggles of its own during this economic recession, and she is forced to search for other employment — any other job — in order to support her financially handicapped household.

Plot twist: poor, unstable Lou meets wealthy, embittered quadriplegic, Will. She becomes his caregiver. She endures his stoic glares, his snarky comments, and his bristling persona for weeks — only to discover, by accident, that there’s a witty, endearing, charming person hiding behind that icy facade.

I won’t elaborate on future plot twists — you’ll want to discover those for yourself. The book is a quick, satisfying read, full of emotion and funny bits mixed with hard-to-accept realities. This is the novel to pick up if you’re stuck inside on a rainy summer day, with nowhere to go and no people to see (you will ugly-cry…a lot…if you have a soul).

Me Before You is one of those rare, evocative novels that will initiate uncontrollable, body-wracking sobs [spoiler: expect this for at least the last 30 pages of the book]; girlish butterflies from stomach to throat; and (many) audible chuckles from the living room sofa. My verdict: get a copy, quickly, and finish prior to the movie’s release date (June 3)!

Overall rating: 4.5 / 5