Coupled with an eye-catching cover that immediately draws you in, the plethora of reviews praising this novel led me to believe that it would not disappoint. The lauding BLANKS on the back cover from BLANK, BLANK, and BLANK assured me that the story within these pages would both entertain and astonish. Eager for a great reading experience, I excitedly buckled myself in for a page-turning ride.
My thoughts about The Girls can basically be summed up in three words: Slow. Anticlimactic. Underwhelming.
The first disappointment I encountered while reading this book was the slow pace of the plot. It took about one hundred pages for Evie, the fourteen-year-old protagonist, to even begin to associate with Suzanne, Russell, and the ranch. Sometimes this lengthy world-building is beneficial to the story because it can add depth to the characters; however, in this case I felt as though I still hardly knew Evie by the time a hundred pages had gone by. Sure, I knew about her mom’s dating life and her father’s girlfriend and Evie’s infatuation with her best friend Connie’s older brother. Yet it was difficult to really discern anything about Evie herself after wading through a sea of complaints, ridiculous beauty tips, and her efforts to try to appear older and more mature in front of everyone she came across. Perhaps the mind-boggling shallowness of Evie’s character was deliberate, a way to show her naivety as a young teenager. If that is the case, then I think she should have undergone more character development throughout the novel instead of remaining disappointingly the same. By the end of the novel it appeared as though Evie had hardly changed after the events at the ranch, apart from the obvious physical and sexual abuse she experiences.
One of the most frustrating parts of the novel was the ending due to the fact that Evie wasn’t even involved with any of the climactic events. The ending felt incredibly unattached and distant from the rest of the story, almost as though it was the topic of an entirely separate novel. This is where the second part of my three-word description comes into play: the ending was simply anticlimactic, failing to make me gasp in surprise or stare at the page in shocked bewilderment. The final events could mostly be predicted early on in the novel, leaving me feeling like I was missing an additional layer to the story. I couldn’t help thinking that there should have been more, that there had to have been more because this wasn’t the exciting and page-turning book that I had been promised.
This leads me to the third word I would use to describe this novel: underwhelming. The combination of an anticlimactic ending, an underdeveloped protagonist, and a painfully slow pace is undoubtedly a recipe for a disappointing story. Though I likely would have still felt disappointed had I not possessed such high expectations beforehand, the immense amount of hype surrounding The Girls certainly did not do the novel any favors.
For me, perhaps the only redeeming aspect of The Girls is Emma Cline’s ability to get into the heads of both the perpetrator and the victims of the abuse. Leaving one’s normal life behind to follow a dangerous, toxic man like Russell around is not a logical decision; however, Cline effectively shows the reader how Russell deliberately manipulates these girls into staying with him on the ranch. He takes advantage of their insecurities and doubts and reassures them that his way of life is the solution to their problems. He makes them feel wanted in a way that Evie certainly doesn’t feel with her mom or dad, making living at the ranch look like an improvement from regular life back home. This twisted way of thinking helps the reader understand why Evie returns to the ranch time and time again as though drawn to it by a sort of emotional magnetic force.
Despite my rather scathing remarks about The Girls, I really do believe that it had the potential to be a great novel if only it had been executed better. The remedy seems twofold: adding more depth and a faster pace, thereby creating a story that is both exciting and thought-provoking at the same time. Unfortunately, Emma Cline has missed the mark with this novel.
My Rating: :0) :0) 2 out of 5
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Probably not, unless they were looking for a book about this specific topic.
Have you ever read this book before? What are your thoughts on it? Did you find it disappointing or did you agree with the positive buzz surrounding it? Let me know in the comments section below!