As a novel generally based on the Manson murders of 1969, at first I wasn't sure how gruesome or violent this was going to be. I found out later that it's less about gore and more about girlhood and coming of age, about being led astray by the wrong crowd. Fourteen-year-old Evie is mesmerized by an older teen, Suzanne, who draws her into what is clearly a cult led by a charismatic yet manipulative man. Evie is lonely and hungry for attention, and her inexperience as well as a lack of parental supervision lead to her getting more deeply involved in the group, bringing life-altering results.
It felt like I had to really focus when reading the book, probably because of the somewhat flowery language, so I went through this rather slowly. There were times when I just couldn't be bothered and picked up something lighter instead. It wasn't until I really sat down with the determination to finish that I got into the groove. The contrast between the bleak point of view of present-day Evie, forever changed by the experience, and the wide-eyed innocent girl she was back then provides a chilling sense of dread, amplified by a heavy dose of foreshadowing. I thought there would be a lot of violence, but there really isn't much especially since Evie wasn't present at the actual murders. That felt a bit anticlimactic for me, but I guess it made sense because otherwise she would've been investigated and could not have stayed anonymous. In my opinion the girls in the cult including Suzanne, for all her talk about gaining freedom by being part of it, are just as exploited as Evie is. With the help of drugs and calculated manipulation, their vulnerability are used to make them feel as if they have some agency when they are being controlled all along.
What struck me the most was how the author captures the most sexist and misogynistic side of the world and describes this in such a blatant way. It was like that for Evie as a teen in 1969 and still like that when she's middle-aged and sees herself in a young girl she meets. Girls who are vulnerable and hungry for attention and are supposed to be thankful to be objectified and taken advantage of by men. I realize not all guys are like that, and not all girls accept this kind of treatment, but this book highlights the worst part of the ingrained power imbalance between men and women, and it's so depressing.