Books about young women are one of the big trends this summer, and we even had a display recently of novels with titles that included the word “girl” or “girls.” There were so many to choose from! Recently I read two new books in this category, both of which feature teenage girls seeking connection and friendship with other young women, only to find something more complicated, and maybe even sinister.
In Emma Cline's debut novel The Girls, Evie Boyd is fourteen and bored one California summer when she spots a group of girls at the city park. It's the late 1960s, and the girls radiate a sense of rebellion and countercultural freedom that entrances Evie. She jumps at the chance to befriend them and is especially drawn to Suzanne, who seems to be a leader of the group. Evie accompanies the girls back to the ranch where they are staying and listens while they regale her with stories of the mysterious Russell, to whom they are all in thrall. Suzanne takes Evie under her wing, and Evie feels emboldened by the possibilities her new friendships bring. She begins spending more time at the ranch and becomes more deeply involved in life there. She begins to see some of the dark edges of Russell, and his hold on her friends emerge. Since this novel is clearly inspired by Charles Manson and his infamous followers, it is easy for the reader to anticipate the danger ahead, but will Evie?
Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman could best be described, at least to those familiar with pop culture, as a mashup of the television show My So-Called Life and the movie Heathers, with just a bit of Carrie thrown in. Set it 1991, it is the story of quiet, isolated Hannah, who spends most of her evenings home watching television with her parents until she is unexpectedly befriended by Lacey, a classic Kurt Cobain-obsessed, school-skipping, all black-clad "bad influence." Their fraught and passionate friendship plays out amidst a "satanic panic," as parents worry about Satanists influencing their teenagers after an apparent suicide by a popular football player shocks the town. When Hannah and Lacey end up in a twisted, manipulative web of friendship and revenge with popular rich girl Nikki, things get very dark, very fast.