I just finished "The Girls" a couple of days ago (and you can always see what I am reading halfway down the right hand side of my blog---currently I am finishing up "The Night Circus"). Although I usually read fantasy, science fiction and the like, this book utterly blew me away with its visceral tale of a 14 year old girl coming of age in the late 60s. Loosely built around the Manson cult, and the famous murders of the time, it's less about the murders than about how young people, especially girls, can be so lost in our society, how this can lead to exploitation, and how eventually all that can translate into utter rage. Anger, fear, confusion, exploitation, longing, the uneasy relationship between the sexes---it's all there and in such exquisitely painful detail. It has the power to call up the awkward feelings of adolescence---nervousness, embarrassment, anger, desire, the desperate need to belong, and that singular surety that teens have that they know the answers to everything. And then the realization that they don't. And how that can then echo into adulthood.
Overall, I also felt like it highlighted the unmoored quality of modern American society and how we really have no real guidance or rites of passage for most young people, especially girls, except for loss, mistakes and fumbling in the dark. There is only the teetering on the precipice---and sometimes there is falling, never to return. I also felt like it was, in a general sort of way, a bittersweet commentary on the sort of communal, everyone shares and loves and helps each other dream that formed some of the social experiments of the 60s.
I was surprised to see that this is the first book for the author, Emma Cline. Aside from a minor issue of overuse, in my opinion, of some of the imagery (dampness, rot, and things stuck in people's teeth feature highly) this book is an amazing first run. I wouldn't call it relaxing reading---it definitely has the power to make the reader uncomfortable (if you are worried about the murder scenes, they are fairly brief, but there are some graphic sex scenes). It does make the reader think deeply about all the things mentioned above, and more. Highly recommended.