Summer of 1969. The summer which will change everything for 14-year-old Evie. With her parents, after their divorce, looking for new partners, her best friend Connie suddenly reserved, Evie finds herself alone when she meets Suzanne. The young woman is a couple of years older and fascinates the teenager at once. Suzanne introduces her to a community at a ranch where Russell acts as some kind of messiah. Everybody is easy and free there, Evie finds the love she is denied by her parents who seem to have forgotten about their daughter. But slowly the small sect develops into a very bad direction and their leader has a violent plan.
Emma Cline’s novel is loosely based on the famous Charles Manson commune and murder of Sharon Tate. Yet, this is not in the focus of the novel which is narrated from the point of view of Evie. It is easy to see and understand how she is attracted by the cult, what the people there can give her that her parents cannot and how they can easily manipulate her in accepting abuse and turning this into something she herself almost demands. It is especially the character of Russell which could convince me, how his charisma can attract people and make them follow him without asking questions. Forlorn souls are easy prey, influenced and finally maneuvered into headless soldiers.
There is an underlying sadness in the story, being told in retrospect you can see that the girl from then never managed to build good relationships afterwards, that she still is lonesome and prone to any kind of affection. This design of a character is a real success because these kind of people exist in the real world and they are a danger due to their weakness and frailty. Looking at the Middle East right now, we can easily see that what Russell does in the novel is an actuality for many especially young men and women.
All in all, a portrait of a generation who wanted to be free and came under tyranny, of a girl who wanted to be loved and was pushed even further away, of human behavior in its most evil shape.