Monday, July 4, 2016
American Girls by Alison Umminger
Anna, a fifteen year old fed up with her home life, steals her stepmother's credit card and buys a plane ticket to L.A., where her older sister Delia (an actress) lives. But once there, Anna realizes L.A. is no paradise, and the escape she seeks may be nowhere to be found.
To pay back her stepmother, Anna takes a research job for her sister's ex-boyfriend, a director who wants to be inspired by the Manson Family, but knows very little about them. So while gaining insight into her sister's real life, and spending time on the set of a popular television show, Anna reads everything she can about Manson and, more specifically, the Manson Girls.
The Manson plot line was what drew me to this book. As a true crime reader, I'm immediately interested in any fictional books that weave in true crime. And the parts centered around Anna's research were certainly interesting. In fact, they were the most interesting part of the book--which I think was actually a problem.
I feel like I should have been much more invested in Anna, and Delia, and their family, and their relationships. But instead, I found myself hoping when I turned the page, the focus would be on Anna's research again.
It's not that I didn't care at all about the characters, it was just that I found it difficult to like them. While we were certainly provided reasons the characters acted the way they did, they still came across, to me, as cynical and hard to connect with, and sometimes even especially cruel.
Thinking about it, though, maybe that was the point? Anna frequently highlights connections between herself and the Manson Girls, who I would certainly describe as hard to connect with and very cruel. Maybe the readers are supposed to view Anna and her fellow characters as almost-Girls, human beings who manage to find that scrap of humanity and hold fast, rather than falling pray to someone promising them the world.
I suspect I would have liked this book more if I hadn't recently read The Girls, a book I felt did a much better job at tackling a very similar subject. And while I did enjoy reading American Girls, I'm left wanting more from Anna and her fictional cohorts. I want them to achieve that growth that comes from truly learning from history's mistakes.