“Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.” – Amazon summary
Evie Boyd finds herself alone in adulthood, staying at a friend’s vacation home while in-between jobs. When that friend’s son shows up at the house with his young girlfriend, their mentioning and questioning of Evie’s scandalous past forces her to reminisce and question the extent of her involvement with the cult she found herself enthralled with when she was just 14.
The crux of the story, Evie’s flashbacks, takes place in the late 60’s in California. This was a time of major societal pressures on women and young girls, even worse being in California with the lights and faces of the Hollywood superstars looming over your shoulder. Evie remembers how desperate she was for love, close friends, and a place to belong. She could see the same desperation in her friends, neighbors, and even her own mother, and it disgusted her. She hated them for their desperation because she hated her own desperation.
Her cozy, privileged life did nothing to fill the emptiness inside of her. The only thing that she found did fill that aching hole in her chest came when she met Suzanne. She became enamored with her, obsessed even. Suzanne’s carefree, do what I want when I want, attitude and seamless confidence inspired total devotion from Evie. She would do anything to stay by Suzanne’s side. She went with her to “the ranch” and met Russell, who Suzanne and all the girls who lived on the ranch worshiped like a God. Evie did connect with his message of love and dismissing of earthly possessions and worries, but she was never as devoted to Russell as she was to Suzanne. The only real reason she kept returning to the ranch was to be with Suzanne, even if she did not receive the same level of love and attention from her that she doted on Russell. The smallest act of kindness or attention from Suzanne was blown out of proportion in Evie’s mind and she was determined to do whatever it took to receive more affections. That’s how the stealing began, and the fights with her mom, the sex she didn’t really want to have but would do so to impress or please Suzanne, and breaking into a neighbor’s house.
But when a bigger scheme is brewed at the ranch, Evie begs to go along only to be with Suzanne – not knowing at all what atrocities were about to be committed by these girls she had been desperately trying to entwine herself with. Suzanne at first lets her tag along as she always has, but kicks her out and leaves her on the side of the road before they actually get to their destination. Evie slinks back home and hears about the crime later on the news. As soon as she sees it on the tv, she knows it was Suzanne and the other girls’ doing, and for the rest of her life she lives with the horrible question “Would I have been capable of joining in if Suzanne hadn’t made the decision for me?”
The ranch, the girls, Russell, and the eventual crime are supposedly loosely based on the Manson family. So it is an interesting book for that angle, but it’s also a captivating book for the sheer raw emotions presented by Evie. The overwhelming NEED to be loved, accepted, and find a place you belong is universal. That desperation can lead to plenty of situations that only bring more pain and heartache into your life if you aren’t careful, and I’m sure we all have learned that lesson probably multiple times in our lives. The question is: how far do you think you would go for that perfect life of love and peace and belonging?