Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, is drawn into a soon-to-be-infamous cult peopled by a group of free-spirited girls and their sinister but charismatic leader.
The most remarkable quality of this novel is Cline’s ability to articulate the anxieties of adolescence in language that’s gorgeously poetic without mangling the authenticity of a teenager’s consciousness. The adult’s melancholy reflection and the girl’s swelling impetuousness are flawlessly braided together...[F]or a story that traffics in the lurid notoriety of the Manson murders, The Girls is an extraordinary act of restraint. With the maturity of a writer twice her age, Cline has written a wise novel that’s never showy: a quiet, seething confession of yearning and terror.
Finely intelligent, often superbly written, with flashingly brilliant sentences, The Girls is also a symptomatic product not of the sixties but of our own age: a nicely paced literary-commercial début whose brilliant style, in the end, seems to restrict its reach and depth...The form of a novel is the accumulation of its sentences; in this case, the tempo of the sentence becomes the stammering tempo of the form. The Girls draws much power from this style, aided by the immediacy of its first-person narration; but development and argument tend to leak away. It is a style supremely adept at plunging us into the helter-skelter world of 1969, but less so at justifying our belated presence, as contemporary readers, in that world.
The Girls is gorgeous, disquieting, and really, really good ... [Cline's] prose conveys a kind of atmospheric dread, punctuated by slyly distilled observation, not unlike the early cinematic style of Roman Polanski, whose wife, actress Sharon Tate, was killed by the Manson family. That deliberate tone remains throughout, though it’s somewhat less successful in the sections set in the present ... By far the strongest writing comes when Cline limns the nearly exquisite boredom and anticipation of early adolescence ... brings a fresh and discerning eye to both the specific, horrific crime at her book’s center, one firmly located in a time and place, and the timeless, slow-motion tragedy of a typical American girlhood.