This is how.
Fourteen was a tumultuous year for me. I moved house, city and school on the eve of my 14th birthday. I left behind my childhood friends and the bright green paddocks of the Waikato, for the windy, hilly vibrant lands of Wellington.
Things were different. There were less gumboots and rugby jerseys and instead more petticoats worn as skirts, duvet covers worn as dresses and army pants worn by both boys and girls who frolicked around the strange bucket -water contraption in Cuba mall. What was this crazy town?
As a shy introvert, it was terrifying. I was at the age where I could feel the pull of adulthood but also the fear of leaving my childhood behind. I wanted to join the kids as they danced around the bucket fountain. I wanted to laugh freely without a care as to where my parents were. Without a thought about my future.
When I started at my new school there were more of them. Boys dressed in shabby jeans and flannel shirts with long sun-bleached hair, girls wearing vintage shifts and babydoll dresses with white blonde hair ah-la Courtney Love. They looked like they’d just walked off the cover of Grunge Today.
There was something about these kids. Not just the way they dressed but the way they carried themselves too. The way they strolled down the quad to the field to smoke cigarettes. The stern look on their faces. They were cool. Oh so cool.
I didn’t even know them but I wanted to join them so badly my whole body ached with it. But how? How could I possibly make contact? How could I get them to invite me in?
I was like Evie in Emma Cline's debut novel The Girls. Just like I did, Evie sees the girls from afar and feels the magnetism of them. They are different. Different to anything she has known so far. She feels drawn to them, their barefoot, suntanned bodies, their shaggy clothes and long grown out hair. Who are they?
It is the summer of 1969 and Evie, as I was, is on the eve of adulthood. She can feel the change in her body, the childhood thoughts quietly making way for her adult mind. The urges of candy and cartoons giving way for sexual urges and the need to explore.
Sometimes timing is everything. For Evie the timing of her parent’s separation allows her enough pity for her mother to pull away from her. Her mother doesn’t seem to notice. She is too busy reclaiming herself, finding her identity through any means possible.
Evie is alone. Introverted. Desperate to connect to someone. Anyone. That’s when she meets them. The Girls.
Loosely based on the true story of Charles Manson and The Family, The Girls is a gripping, heart clenching read. Cline writes so utterly and honestly from the character of Evie, so painfully sensitive and analytical, that at times I struggled; I could relate so completely to this character that it felt like I was reading from my own teenage diary.
“I dressed to provoke love. Tugging my neckline lower, setting a wistful stare on my face whenever I went out in public that implied many deep and promising thoughts, should anyone happen to glance over.”
Manson’s character takes light in the shape of Russel. The Jesus-like cult leader with aspirations of a career in music. Though in Evie’s story he is not as much of lead character as you may expect.
This is a story about The Girls. Or one girl to be specific. Suzanne, based on the real life character of Susan Atkins, is the true leader in Evie’s mind. Suzanne with her long black hair and her carefree air is who lures Evie out to the ranch, where the group live in a peaceful commune. But is it really as peaceful as it seems?
It is no surprise that Emma Cline’s debut novel caused such a stir in the publishing world when it went up to auction. And also no surprise that the bidding war that ensued settled on a two million dollar book deal.
A fabulous book by a remarkable writer.
“Emma Cline has an unparalleled eye for the intricacies of girlhood.” – Lena Dunham.