Read One, Skip One (Girls Edition): The Girls by Emma Cline and Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

June 16, 2016 Mini Book Reviews 28

I’m sure you’ve noticed the overwhelming number of books from the last few years with the word “girl(s)” in the title. Here are two more…

The Girls, Emma ClineThe Girls by Emma Cline
Historical Fiction (Released June 14, 2016)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: Publisher (Random House) via NetGalley

Plot Summary: Inspired by the 1960’s California cult led by Charles Manson, The Girls is the story of fourteen year-old Evie Boyd’s involvement with an older teenage girl (Suzanne) and her fellow cohorts living a cultish life under the thrall of their leader (Russell) on a dilapidated ranch.

My Thoughts: This novel, along with The Nest, is one of the most hotly anticipated debuts of the year and I’d been waiting for exactly the right time to start reading it (turns out it was on Mother’s Day). I knew the story was inspired by the Manson cult, but I expected it to focus on the murders. Instead, The Girls is a much more subtle book about teen angst and the context and culture surrounding the Manson cult. Through her gorgeous writing, Cline perfectly captures how an average teen girl living in a somewhat kooky time and place could get sucked into the aura of Manson and his disciples. And, that, rather than the murders themselves, is the crux of the novel.

I couldn’t help my pleasure at being the focus of their attention. Inexplicably, they seemed to like me, and the thought was foreign and cheering, a mysterious gift I didn’t want to probe too much.

That being said, the story does eventually get to the murders and I appreciated it’s slow build to the inevitable climax. Along the way, Cline keeps the reader hooked by dropping tantalizing hints about seemingly innocuous moments that became meaningful in hindsight.

If you like coming of age stories involving teen angst (My Sunshine Away) and/or fiction based on true crime (The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress), this might be the summer book for you. And, it’s sure to have you Googling the Manson murders to guess the real-life inspiration for each fictional character!

Girls on Fire, Robin WassermanGirls on Fire by Robin Wasserman
Fiction (Released May 17, 2016)
368 Pages
Bottom Line: Skip it.
Affiliate Link: Amazon
Source: Purchased (Publisher: Harper)

Plot Summary: When golden boy classmate Craig Ellison is found dead in the woods, Hannah (aka “Dex”) and Lacey embark on an unlikely and “obsessive” friendship with far-reaching ramifications.

My Thoughts: When I first started this novel, I thought I’d found the follow-up to The Fever and The Unraveling of Mercy Louis I’d been looking for forever (aka the smart, but intense book about high school that doesn’t read like YA). Girls on Fire showcases the demented and vicious girls of The Fever and the religious zealotry of Mercy Louis. And, in the beginning, the writing sparkled…

The thought of the corpse wasn’t what disturbed me most, not even close. What disturbed me most was the revelation that someone like Craig Ellison had secrets – that he had actual, human emotions not altogether dissimilar from mine. Deeper, apparently, because when I had a bad day, I watched cartoons and hoovered up a bag of Doritos whereas Craig took his father’s gun into the woods and blew a hole through the back of his head.

But, as the story went on, an increasing focus on the devil and Satanic cults added a sense of hokeyness that I couldn’t get past. And that hokeyness took the bite right out of the completely F’d up antics of these high school girls. Cline tells the story from various perspectives and it especially suffered when it got stuck in Lacey’s Kurt Cobain-obsessed, misfit brain. If I had to sum up my main issue with this book in a few words, they would be “more Dex, less Lacey.” So, I’m sadly still on the hunt (and taking recommendations!) for my next dark, smart book about demented high school students.

28 Responses to “Read One, Skip One (Girls Edition): The Girls by Emma Cline and Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman”

  1. tanya (52 books or bust)

    Yes, Girls in the title is a pet peeve of mine. Especially since most of the time the character is question is actually a woman!

    But i’m so glad you are giving THE GIRLS a strong recommendation.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      So true! Esp. with Girl on the Train. These two are still riding the line of actual girls…ages 14 and 17.

  2. Shannon @ River City Reading

    I really appreciated the way The Girls approached the story, too. I think it could have ended up just being another Manson-esque novel, but there was something completely different about it and that was what I was looking for.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Agreed…and the writing! I now want to go read Helter Skelter to get the true story.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      You should definitely try The Girls’s a good look at the mental side of how someone becomes wrapped up in something like that.

  3. Carly Blogs Here

    I never really noticed the girl/girls thing until I was looking for books to read for a book challenge and went through my TBR list and realized I had so many choices using those two words!

  4. Amanda

    I am so glad I wasn’t alone on Girls on Fire. The Walls Around Us is one that really gets into the heads of girls – twisted ballerinas in fact. Gorgeously written. All the Rage by Courtney Summers is is another really fantastic though brutal book. I have high hopes for Emma Cline!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oooh – ballet is a great setting for twisted girls! And gymnastics, which Megan Abbott is taking on later this summer. I need to try Courtney Summers as well!

  5. Tara

    I’m so glad you enjoyed The Girls; while I certainly appreciated it (I still gave it four stars on Goodreads), it wasn’t quite what I was looking for…but, sometimes, I’m not sure what I’m looking for – ha! I’m curious to find out what Keija Parssinen is working on; she needs to hurry. 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I was surprised to see your rating! But, glad it worked for you to some extent at least. It was definitely not what I was expecting in the least. And – YES – to Keija!

  6. Rita @ View From My Books

    Ok, I’ll join in…quick– name books with Girl in the title:

    The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, The Luckiest Girl Alive, All the Missing Girls, Kiss the Girls, The Girl With All the Gifts …..

    sorry, I went off on a fun tangent, just joking around 🙂 I also addressed on my blog this need to stop comparing psychological thrillers with the word “girl”– it will start to backfire if it hasn’t already!

    I would like to read The Girls and was going to skip Girls on Fire anyway. Not sure why, but it didn’t appeal to me. As someone old enough to remember the Manson news and trials from tv/newspaper, I am constantly intrigued by a mention of him in fiction. Not because I’m ghoulish.. maybe just curiosity about the power he held over his followers. I read Helter Skelter back in my teens– a disturbing read, but full of matter-of-fact detail that it didn’t dip too far into voyeurism.

    bonus round: The Girl With a Pearl Earring, Girl, Interrupted, Shanghai Girls, The Other Boleyn Girl, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Boston Girl, The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing… how many “Girl” books do you know? Now I can stop chuckling.

    Good post as always, Sarah– keep ’em coming.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I’m not old enough to remember Manson, but my mom talked about it when I was reading this. She said it was a huge deal back then! And she read Helter Skelter, which I now want to read.

      Thank you 🙂

    • Sarah Dickinson

      You know…it’s not as dark as you’d expect. A little bit, but I expected it to be darker.

  7. Katie McD @ Bookish Tendencies

    I really loved The Girls, and thought she captured what it’s like to be a teenaged girl SO WELL. So many times I was like, yep remember feeling like that… I absolutely devoured this novel and “couldn’t put it down” (although I could, because, hello newborn – but you know what I mean).

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yep – there was some quote about girls waiting around to be noticed while guys were off becoming themselves which rang SO true for me! Glad a book managed to grab you like that while in newborn land!

  8. Catherine

    You’re an evil reading temptress! I had set aside The Girls for a later time, but have not put it at the top of my list and will be starting it tonight.

  9. Kathy @ Kathy Reads Fiction

    I love that The Girls was more about “the girls” than it was Manson-esque. I’m really surprised by Girls on Fire because it was coming through my emails like crazy as the next great book.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yep – it’s a very apt title, so I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised by the book! Yep – I saw all that about Girls on Fire too…but, I do think it will appeal to some.

  10. Donna @ OnDBookshelf

    I’m currently reading The Girls and enjoying it so far. The writing is wonderful! I did read Helter Skelter but it was about 40 years ago, so I don’t remember much!

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