[note note_color=”#F67751″ text_color=”#ffffff”]American Girls by Alison Umminger • June 7, 2016 • Flatiron Books (Macmillan)
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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 and 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.
In Anna’s singular voice, we glimpse not only a picture of life on the B-list in LA, but also a clear-eyed reflection on being young, vulnerable, lost, and female in America―in short, on the B-list of life. Alison Umminger writes about girls, sex, violence, and which people society deems worthy of caring about, which ones it doesn’t, in a way not often seen in YA fiction.[/note]
[note note_color=”#BFD1D1″ text_color=”#ffffff”]I received this book for free from Flatiron Books for review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.[/note]
First sentence: “My first Manson girl was Leslie van Houten, the homecoming princess with the movie-star smile.”
When a young teenage girl becomes fed up with her family in Atlanta, what does she do? For Anna, she “borrows” her stepmom’s credit card and runs away to Los Angeles, where her half-sister lives. However, being in the City of Angels is not exactly the out she had hoped for.
American Girls takes you on a ride that explores people who are struggling; the unglamorous life of LA and Hollywood; the darkness that is in everybody; and the fascinating Manson girls. This is not a happy portrayal of teenage girls; it’s a dark coming-of-age story of a girl deep in American culture.
WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT AMERICAN GIRLS
- It isn’t about Charles Manson nor does it have characters idolizing him and his cult.
Everybody is usually curious about Manson and his cult, but Anna? She’s not. She doesn’t really care for Manson or the Manson Girls. As a way to pay for what Anna “borrowed” from her stepmom, Anna takes on a job of reading books about the Manson Girls for her sister’s director friend. It’s not something she wants to do, but hey, it’s a paying job.
American Girls may talk about the Manson Girls, but Anna nor the other characters idolize them. Nobody in this book wants to be a Manson girl or become seduced into their way of life. This book isn’t about Anna trying to make sense of why these girls did what they did; it’s more about emphasizing how normal girls like Anna can fall into a terrible situation like the Manson Girls if the right circumstances occur.
- You can see similarities between Anna and the Manson Girls, but it doesn’t mirror those girls’ lives.
You won’t see Anna being seduced by some charismatic cult leader or finding a kindred spirit in one of the Manson Girls. It’s not a play-by-play mirroring. What makes Anna and the Manson Girls similar is due to their home life. Both had fairly normal upbringing: Manson Girls had parents who were absent or abusive or whatever, and Anna had parents who became absent from her life when they separated.
Manson Girls and Anna are just “lost girls who made really bad decisions.” For the Manson Girls, it’s joining Charles Manson’s cult and committing murder. For Anna, it’s running away across the country to LA and a whole list of other terrible things she did that caused emotional pain.
What American Girls tries to do, which I think the book does well, is showing how even girls with seemingly normal lives can fall into terribleness.
- People are terrible, but they don’t do terrible things on purpose.
There will always be someone who thinks you’re terrible and whatever you do is terrible. When you read about Anna and the other characters, you will probably not like them. Anna is a cynical teenager who does and says things that show that she is incredibly self-absorbed and selfish, but weren’t we all like that when we were 15? Plenty of readers have done things that seemed like a very terrible thing to do, but to them, they didn’t intend for it to be terrible. People do these things to seem cool, to fit in, or to feel validated. I love that American Girls explores this. People—young and old, past and present—are capable of doing terrible things without meaning to or realizing the consequence that another human is being affected.
I didn’t agree with Anna’s thoughts or actions, but she makes a great character to read. No matter how frustrated I got with her, I was riveted by her voice and cynicism.
- It might be about LA and a bit of Hollywood, but it’s not the cliche portrayal of what most books paints LA/Hollywood to be.
I don’t care for books that are about Hollywood or Charles Manson; it’s always so shallow and focused on the glitz and drama, and it feels like I’ve already read about it before. American Girls is nothing like that. It’s gritty and gets to the deep dark stuff that everybody knows is happening all over America, not just in LA. You meet various characters in the business who are all pretending they are better off than they actually aren’t like Delia with her lackluster acting career on the B-list (but not even that), Roger with his artsy-fartsy creepy immersive directing, and Olivia Taylor (a former A-list celebrity, now struggling to find work) with her rising star twin brothers. However, American Girls isn’t about LA or Hollywood itself; it’s about an aspect of American culture that people are always so curious about.
Should you read American Girls? You should! Don’t let the Manson girls or Anna’s cynicism scare you away. It may not have a lot of plot, but the characters are amazing to read. American Girls is not about Hollywood or the unglamorous lives of the people there; it’s a coming-of-age about regular, seemingly terrible people who make really bad decisions, and where those decisions lead them.