Book Review: American Girls by Alison Umminger

She was looking for a place to land.

Anna is a fifteen-year-old girl slouching toward adulthood, and she’s had it with her life at home. So Anna “borrows” her stepmom’s credit card an runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister takes her in. But LA isn’t quite the glamorous escape Anna had imagined.

As Anna spends her days on TV and movie sets, she engrosses herself in a project researching the murderous Manson girls—and although the violence in her own life isn’t the kind that leaves physical scars, she begins to notice the parallels between herself and the lost girls of LA, and of America, past and present.

There are a few things that I found a bit weird about this novel, but I will tell you that the first thing that threw me off about this book is the title.  “American Girls,” just really didn’t seem to fit with the overall narrative of the story, and I definitely prefer the UK title, “My Favourite Manson Girl,” as that phrase is uttered multiple times throughout the story.  Plus, the cover for that novel is way more fitting.  Although it does feature the popular rounded sunglasses of the 60’s much like the cover of The Girls by Emma Cline, and they were being released on the same day, so I understand if the publisher decided to go a different way because of that.

I basically decided to pick up this novel because it was influenced heavily by the Manson family murders and found it interesting that two novels, one a cross-over adult novel (The Girls) and a young adult novel (American Girls) featuring details about some of the most infamous female criminals in history.  Now, where The Girls is set during the summer of 1969 and leads up to the family murders, American Girls tries to parallel some of the basic human aspects of these women and the narrator and her sister.

American Girls really is more of a commentary on life in Los Angeles and the modern teen than anything else, but there are some things that just didn’t sit right with me.  I found the main narrator, Anna, to be incredibly unlikable. She basically threw a $500 temper tantrum over feeling lonely and disregarded by her mother and her stepmother.  You don’t find out until later that she is being forced to switch schools (also something that happens to the narrator of The Girls) due to being part of some significantly disturbing bullying.  She somehow ends up being able to stay in LA with her sister after her $500 runaway scheme and is handed all of these opportunities that she takes for granted and doesn’t appreciate.

Sure, she gets in the middle of the weird life of her sister, who to be honest, I found more likable due to her acknowledgement and acceptance of her mistakes and who she is as a person, despite her flaws.  There are some pretty gruesome things that happen to her sister because of her idiotic choices, and there is a stalker/creeper factor going on that I think could have been a stronger plot point than it was, but I understand that the majority of the novel is about Anna’s journey rather than anything else.

The writing was fairly standard for a young adult novel, there wasn’t anything absolutely impressive about the narrative voice, word selection, or any risks taken with style.

I know it seems that I kind of bashed this novel, but overall, despite the flaws, I still found it an enjoyable read.  It isn’t one that I’d likely re-read over and over, unlike The Virgin Suicides (another novel about the lives of teen girls and the implications of the world around them), but it is one that I’d willingly recommend.

I’m going to give this novel an average rating of 3 Bards

threebards

 

 

 

 

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