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Mini Reviews: Battle of the Manson Girls

Blurb from Goodreads:
She was looking for a place to land.

Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she's had it with her life at home. So Anna "borrows" her stepmom's credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn't quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.

As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn't the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.

In Anna's singular voice, we glimpse not only a picture of life on the B-list in LA, but also a clear-eyed reflection on being young, vulnerable, lost, and female in America—in short, on the B-list of life. Alison Umminger writes about girls, sex, violence, and which people society deems worthy of caring about, which ones it doesn't, in a way not often seen in YA fiction. 
My Review:
I didn't necessarily hate this but I am not sure I liked it either -- even now, after finishing it, I kind of feel like what just happened?!  And not in the good way that an amazing book can leave you with a hangover and/or just tie you up in a cathartic way that leaves you thinking about the book for days and wondering about some piece of it.  Instead, I feel like I kind of wasted my time by reading this book but it did have a train wreck type quality to it and it did have some beautiful passages; I am a total sucker for descriptions and this had a few good ones even if they didn't make up for everything else.  I never really liked Anna and I never got that sympathetic feeling I think we were supposed to have because she has missing parents (and some decidedly nasty interactions with her mom) and a really pretty terribly sister (with a lot of secrets) whom she sneaks off to for the summer in LA. It just became weird to me that Anna suddenly becomes obsessed with the Manson girls and every time she mentioned them, it just seemed out of place in the context of what was going on in the book.  In this way, it reminded me a little of Save Me, Kurt Cobain, because it was like she was just writing some snippets of books she had read and there was no real purpose to it in the the book other than to try and show knowledge?  Aside from Dex, one of Anna's sisters boyfriends that is actually decent, there wasn't a single likable character to be had in this book.  I guess if you want to compare it to the Manson girls, this book did make feel like all girls are awful.
It was almost too easy to hate on Los Angeles.  The city was a kind of apocalyptic tar pit, a freak show of broken hearts and half-fulfilled dreams, full of artists, liars, parasites, and roadkill, all of whom had just a touch of violence in their hearts.  Even today, it was Manson territory without the Manson.  But those hills and canyons were beautiful as well.  Anyone could see how easy it was to write off the glitter, the fake boobs and hair, the way the dumbest and worst seemed to rise to the top, at that at the end of the day it was probably all just a big lie, but I still couldn't do it myself.  I may not have wanted to stay, but I sure liked to visit.  Maybe Los Angeles was like Gatsby's dream of Daisy, but for all of America.  Instead of sitting on a pier and gazing at a green light across the water, now people just sat in their living rooms and watched the wide-screen, 3-D version of some life that was out there for the taking, if only they could get off the couch.

Blurb from Goodreads:
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction—and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become.
My Review:
This story edges between the present and the summer of 1969-- the summer that Evie Boyd made every attempt to belong to a cult of teenage girls, all serving a Manson-like figure in every disturbing way that you can imagine. While I did like the chapters set in the past quite a bit, the present scenes were even more disturbing to me and so very pathetic.  I know there had to be a device for the author to tell the story of that summer to suggest that Evie was even now affected by it looking back but the navigation was not done well, especially compared to the harsh yet brilliant descriptions of that summer of 1969.  The past scenes were captivating, roller coaster peaks and valleys and devastating in their honesty and desire for acceptance.  I was definitely reminded of The Virgin Suicides while reading this one with that familiar spark of teenage girls that break all the rules with dire consequences; maybe it was the era or the absent parents, maybe just coincidence but I felt some of that same hopelessness spread across the page and would recommend it to fans of that work.
There are those survivors of disasters whose accounts never begin with the tornado warning or the captain announcing engine failure, but always much earlier in the timeline: an insistence that they noticed a strange quality to the sunlight that morning or excessive static in their sheets.  A meaningless fight with a boyfriend.  As if the presentiment of catastrophe wove itself into everything that came before. 
Did I miss some sign?  Some internal twinge?  The bees glittering and crawling in the crate of tomatoes? An unusual lack of cars on the road? The question I remember Donna asking me in the bus--casually, almost as an afterthought. 
"You ever hear anything about Russell?" 
The question didn't make sense to me.  I didn't understand that she was trying to gauge how many of the rumors I'd heard: about orgies, about frenzied acid trips and teen runaways forced to service older men.  Dogs sacrificed on moonlit beaches, goat head rotting in the sand.  If I'd had friends besides Connie, I might've heard chatter of Russell at parties, some hushed gossip in the kitchen.  Might've known to be wary.  But I just shook my head.  I hadn't heard anything.
I'm calling this battle of the Manson Girls because American Girls has blatant and idealized references to those girls as leaving some sort of indelible mark on Los Angeles while The Girls is a sort of fictionalized homage to that same scene, just set further North but a story still about wide eyed girls running away from home to fall into and follow the maniacal utopia of one man.  American Girls was released last week on June 7, 2016, while The Girls comes out today, June 14, 2016.


  1. I've never heard of either of these books. I like that first cover a lot, but it's a shame it didn't really work for you. The concept seems interesting, but it doesn't look like it was done well. Sorry this one wasn't for you, Eva.
    Great reviews!

  2. The Girls is one I am interested in. I do think it sounds like it is worth giving a shot even with its issues. Lovely reviews!

  3. I've never come across American Girls, but it looks like one I'd pick up. Sorry it was a bust.

  4. Great mini reviews! I liked The Girls, but I wanted MORE from it. I really felt like something was missing.

  5. Oh, my. I'm a little leary when it looks like snippets of other books put together with no particular path to follow. It's happened before. I really liked The Girls because the writing was amazing in capturing the teenage girl. Great minis!

  6. Fantastic comparison! What a ton of work for these two "mini" reviews (not really, these are very thorough, that's for sure!). The Girls definitely sounds more my speed than American Girls, which just sounds depressing.

  7. I liked reading your mini reviews of these!! They both sound like a bit of a downer in some ways.

  8. Interesting that both of these have ties to Manson and his "family." With American Girls it sounds like the MC wasn't particularly likable or sympathetic and when you're left feeling like "what's the point?"... yeah, the author surely hasn't engaged the reader. The Girls sounds slightly better but it actually sounds like both books kind of missed the mark when it comes to making an impacting and connecting the reader to the characters and plot.


  9. Both are pretty meh. Definitely skipping these. I just cannot bother.

  10. Hm, this is unfortunate. I really hoped that American Girls would be stronger, and I am sad that it was not. It actually sounds kind of awful. I mean, the REAL story of the Manson girls is so... not like this. I don't really like the whole trope of obsessions with random old famous people for no reason. The Kurt Cobain thing is annoying AF, I didn't like it in Love Letters to the Dead and I really doubt I'd like the whole book about it. It's like, since the authors are largely our age- maybe a few years older, and therefore influenced more than we were (or at least, I was) by Nirvana in general, they want to... pass it on? I can kind of get that, I guess. But the Manson girls!? Really? I admit- I am VERY fascinated with the case, but on a more psychological level- not a "hey, cool, I am JUST like them!" level. Even THEY now don't want to be them!

    The second book sounded promising... until the present stuff was so blah. I mean, in a story like that, NOTHING should feel uninspired. Ugh. Sorry that these were let downs, especially American Girls. But great reviews!

  11. Ther Girls is on my list this summer can't wait to get to it.


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