The Girls

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by Emma Cline

3.5/5 stars

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.

Evie is 14-years-old in 1969. The social movements of the sixties are in their heyday, and most violent, though this does not seem to have touched Evie’s world. Rather, she is dealing with her parent’s divorce and the imminent move to boarding school next year. And then she meets Suzanne, an older girl who appears immensely sophisticated to lonely Evie. And Suzanne lives on a ranch in what often appears a bohemian paradise of sorts to Evie, a place that treats her feel like the adult she feels like. But the ranch is a cult, and Evie may soon be into more than she anticipated.

This is already being buzzed as one of the biggest books of the summer. Granted, a lot of this buzz is coming from the publisher itself. But it’s generating that self-fulfilling prophecy buzz in the way of The Girl on the Train and The Nest. I believe this one will continue to be buzzy. And I know this will satisfy many readers this summer; I will be recommending it I’m sure.

My biggest criticism of the book relates to the title. Obviously “girl” in titles is having a moment right now. It’s enough that the everyday reader is picking up on it. And it’s not hard considering my own recommendation trajectory for customers looking for the next read from Gone Girl went to The Girl on the Train to Luckiest Girl Alive, with some Megan Abbot also thrown in to mix things up. And while I’ve almost always recommended the Woman Upstairs too, I don’t know that anyone has actually purchased it based on my recommendation.

Tangent, regardless, this novel is called The Girls. Thus, I expected the eponoymous girls to be a central force in this novel. But they always felt distant. Evie was obsessed with Suzanne, but this obsession with Suzanne, not even the other girls, never felt frenzied. This novel hinged on building to an immediacy of obsession group-think. Evie would occasionally mention Russell bringing new people in and explaining his vision. But we were never introduced to that vision. And maybe Evie never was either. She was a 14-year-old playing at larger events than she realized. Evie was never fully submerged in the world, and she never was supposed to be. How different the world of this cult was to her everyday life was what drew her to it. Still, while I could make many of the connections myself because the pieces were there, I wanted more of the Girls, what the title of this novel promises. The cult just never feels formed. I want more of its story, but it’s outside of Evie’s purview. And I guess hat’s how we always feel about such things. We’re immensely fascinated in a grim way, but even with answers we don’t full understand.

But with the modern plot line we see how young girls are still being swept away by these charismatic men, men who may not even really have anything going for them. It’s terrifying, sad,  and slightly enthralling to watch.

I loved the prose in this. It moved along quickly and was well written. Some reviewers have felt the prose colors a little purple at times, and it does toe the line, but I enjoyed it. And it placed me in this world that was almost stiflingly still. Evie was incredibly lonely. Maybe that’s all the answer I need to my previous critique.

You can pick up your copy June 14th!

What is Not Yours is Not Yours

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by Helen Oyeyemi

4/5 stars

With boys there was a fundamental assumption that they had a right to be there–not always, but more often than not. With girls, Why here? came up so quickly.

A doomed romance set against the romantic and mysterious city of Barcelona. Fans of a cultish pop star dealing with the fallout of his bad behavior. A student puppeteer–where there’s more to the puppets than meets the eye. All of Oyeyemi’s stories revolve around locks and keys. some of the stories are tangentially related. All are captivating.

Those of you that know me, or having been reading my ramblings here for a bit, know I generally prefer my short stories with a touch of the odd. Oyeyemi delivers. Like with her novels Boy, Snow, Bird and White is for Witching (and presumably also the ones I have not yet read), Oyeyemi takes the ordinary and spins a fairy tale. Or she adds that one odd element that makes all the difference. These stories live up to that. If you like Karen Russell or Kelly Link (who was just a Pulitzer finalist!), this will be right up your alley.

With her touches of magic, Oyeyemi manages to dig deep, and all of her stories ring of truth. One of the stories that stood out to me most involved two teenagers dealing with he fallout of the pop star they idolized beating a woman. The tone feels extra sinister as if these girls were victims themselves. And, in many ways they were. It was a look at the fall of a teen idol that did not shame the teens, and I loved that. It was analysis of how we worship, and forgive, “stars” seemingly ripped right from the headlines.

The marketing of this one led me to believe these stories were more interconnected than I found them–though that they are connected is undeniable. There also could have been things I missed. Regardless, pick this one up.