In the Cannonball Read Facebook group, someone awesome posted an article called “The best books of 2016 list you get when you combine 36 “Best Books of 2016” lists.” The Girls is 6th on that list, appearing in 10 of the 36 “Best Books of 2016” lists combined for the “ultimate list.”
Here’s what it has going for it: it’s completely real. Here’s what it has against it: it’s not new.
The Girls is the story of an older woman reminiscing about that summer when she spent most of her time with a cult, even though she mostly still lived at home, and was basically mostly fixated on one of the cult members, not really the cult leader, although kind of that, because she definitely gets it about his charisma.
It’s not a spoiler to tell you that a couple of the cult members (including her object of affection) commit some brutal murders, and go to jail. In her adulthood, she speaks with almost no one of that One Crazy Summer, but turns it over in her head constantly, remembering her adolescence and how out-of-control things got so quickly.
It’s easy to hook into Evie’s feelings of alienation, her resentment of her mother and her mother’s post-divorce “selfish” choice to date and find love again, her attachment to Suzanne, the girl who catches her eye in the park and is the go-to paramour of the cult leader, Russell, who has some sort of sexual connection with all of the girls in the cult.
It’s easy to shake your head at the sexual abuse and emotional violence, the toll that so many young women pay to make their way in the world.
But none of it is new. In this time when True Crime is a thriving genre, we know. We know that girls are vulnerable and that charismatic but insecure leaders are preying on them. We know that girls are experimenting with power and agency. We know that adolescence is the loneliest stage and the most universal experience.
I was expecting something extraordinary, and I got something sadly and scarily ordinary. It’s not that it’s not tragic and scary and brutal. It’s just that it’s completely believable, and real.