It’s 1969, the Summer of Love. Evie is a restless 14 year old girl. She is on the outs with her only close friend and dealing with her parent’s recent split. Times are changing and she struggles to find herself in all of it. And then she meets Suzanne. Suzanne’s ethereal beauty and personality immediately catches Evie’s attention and she becomes enraptured by her in the way only a teenage girl can.
Evie quickly ingratiates herself into Suzanne’s fold, which means she becomes familiar with “The Family”, a cultish group of young adults and teenagers that Suzanne lives with, and she moves on to the abandoned ranch where they all live in one big commune. She spends the summer fawning over Suzanne and taking drugs with the head of The Family, Russell, and the rest of the family members. It all ends after The Family is implicated in a couple of murders.
First of all, if you haven’t heard of this book, you’ve been living under a rock. It has to have the most hype of any book this year. Emma Cline is a new author, and was offered an unheard of $2 million dollar contract for this book (which also includes two books to be published in the future I believe) after an all out bidding war. So it is one of those books that felt almost too gargantuan before I even read it. At the same time, seeing it everywhere only made me want to read it more.
I should start out by saying I am an avid reader of anything having to do with Charles Manson and his Family. Up until this point, that has been strictly non fiction. So suffice it to say, I know a lot about his followers and the murders they committed. I was afraid that this would majorly color my perspective and lessen my enjoyment of this book. And in a way, it did. I didn’t quite buy Russell’s character and there were little things that Cline changed that niggled at me. Obviously she took creative license with the story, but I had a hard time reconciling that in my head. However, this wasn’t a story that focused on Russell or the murders, but instead a story that focused on the trials that adolescent girls go through. Evie’s “coming-of-age” was the central focus, with the cult and murders being only a backdrop. Looking at it that way made it easier for me to let go of my hangups and enjoy the story on its own merits.
If you’ve been following the reviews for , you’ll probably notice that they’re pretty mixed. I can see why. I found the prose to be overwritten much of the time, in a way that didn’t appeal to me. I am not sure I would have enjoyed this book in a different setting (isn’t that funny? The Manson aspect truly hurt and helped this book for me), so I’ll be interested to see what Cline comes up with next.
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