“The real danger wasn’t violence like you saw on the television news, random and exciting—the real danger was the vampiric kind, the sort that you invited in because it told you everything you wanted to hear. Charles Manson could never have been Charles Manson if there hadn’t been girls by the dozen, ready and willing, scarred by the silent cruelty behind those carefully locked doors.”
― Alison Umminger,
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.
Jenn: Unfortunately this was a big letdown for me. I love reading about anti-culture and true crime issues. I find things like the topic of Charles Manson interesting. American Girls did not deliver what I wanted from it. It fell really flat because of the lack of conflict and resolutions. Overall, I gave it a 2/5 stars.
Eden: American Girls had the potential to be a book that I absolutely loved. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. I was unhappy with the characters and the overall story. The lack of conflict and plot was just an added reason for my letdown. 2/5 stars.
Caitlynn: This book just wasn’t what I was expecting and honestly it’s my most disappointing read of 2017. Like Eden said it had some much potential and just fell so flat. 2.5/5 stars for me.
Jenn: I originally rated this book at a 3/5 stars. But, I recently changed it to a 2.
Caitlynn: Okay, I gave it a 2.5
Eden: I gave it a 2/5 stars.
J: So, to explain my rating I think that I read through it all in one seating. I then immediately rated it without even–
C: Thinking about it.
J: Yeah. Without thinking about what I liked and what I didn’t like about it. So, after giving myself time to ruminate on it I felt as though the cons outweighed the pros so I changed my rating.
C: This book was so boring. Obviously I still semi liked it because I could have given it a 1.
J: It wasn’t something that you couldn’t read. It wasn’t so bad that you were ripping your eyeballs out.
C: Yeah, I finished the whole thing. I was trying to see if something was going to happen. But, I finished the book. I didn’t hate it. There are definitely different books that I disliked more than this.
E: So, I am still debating if I should go back and give it a 1. I only liked one character in this book.
J: Me too.
E: I didn’t like the age of our main character.
E: There’s no conflict. Like, none whatsoever. There’s not even really a plot.
C: I wasn’t even sure what we were trying to go towards.
J: We had a lot of rising action with no climax or falling action.
E: You want to know why I gave it 2 stars? Because, it’s only 290 pages. If it had been more than 290 it probably would have gone down to a 1.
J: I like the idea of having a dual narrative of a teen in LA versus the Manson girls in their time and showing how a teenager could fall into that. I don’t think it was executed. I think instead we got a book that told us it was going to be about the Manson murders and that subject. Instead we got someone who briefly read about the murders then used buzzwords just so they could put Charles Manson’s name on the back.
C: So, I read Helter Skelter and that’s exactly to a T what you just said. There are exact words that she pulled from Helter Skelter and just slid them right in there.
J: Something that I continued to say to Eden as I read was how much I didn’t care about the girl and I’d rather just read about the murders. I’d rather just read Helter Skelter or a biography on the Manson family than read this book that’s just repeating information from another book that would give me more information.
C: That’s exactly how I felt. I would like to read more true crime novels after this.
J: Her narrative didn’t add anything to it. It’d be different if it was trying to take a stance or commentary on how we treat youth in America. Because, that’s how The Girls by Emma Cine was and I really liked that.
E: Not just youth in America she could have made a statement about the glamorization of the LA lifestyle and this exaggerated living style.
J: I think that if someone is wanting to read a book that falls under this idea I would point them instead to The Girls. Because, it was a actually taking a subject matter and building a story from it rather than taking a subject matter and adding a storyline that doesn’t go with it.
E: Jenn and I talked about the possible alternative endings that could have come with this book. The thing is that is what was so frustrating at the end. Is that there is so many opportunities to make this book insane and to make this parallel story to the Manson murders. Instead we get nothing. When I say nothing, nothing happened at the end of this story. Don’t make me read all of this and build up all of this crap and then give me nothing.
J: What I took from that was that the author was trying not to make it predictable. So, instead of pulling any punches that might have been predictable she chose to do none of it. I’d rather have been able to predict the entire book and still end up with a conclusion. Or if there would have been a problem at all would have been nice.
J (Cont): Her biggest problem was that she was a whiny, entitled, little brat. That was the only problem throughout the book. I’m not sure why we got the sister of the twins. That had no point. I’m not sure why she talked about the TV show with the twins so much. I’m not real sure why the brought up half of the things they brought up. Why bring up this girl that you tormented and then go nowhere with that? Nothing happened. They set up all of these different plotlines and then she snipped the ends so that they were all left dangling.
E: When I think about it, to me, it almost comes off as though Alison Umminger, I don’t know where she lives, was judging LA itself.
J: She lives in Georgia. She’s a professor at a university in West Georgia. She’s originally from Virginia though.
E: Okay, so she’s southern. The book comes across as less of a story and more of her taking punches at anyone who is trying to find fame in LA. They become the stick thin trying to be gorgeous girl. What was it you had to be dumb enough or-
J: Young enough.
E: It was all a judgment on LA and the people in LA. How many times did you guys read something in the book and go, “That sounds like…” For example, the Chips Ahoy! Show? That sounded a lot like The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, on deck. I’m fairly certain Jeremy was supposed to be Cole Sprouse because of the moles on his face. Then one of the people sounded like Miley Cyrus.
J: The sister sounded exactly like Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan when they were going through their breakdowns. I think that I was turned off immediately. At one point I closed the book and I told Eden, “I don’t think I’m going to like this.” Because, it had Anna talking about her sister’s underwear drawer and she says, “It had crossed my mind that my sister might be a slut, but a really nice-smelling, clean, and carefully closeted slut.” I was not a fan of that slut shaming at all.
E: There were a lot of things that were not okay. Like, when she’s talking about how she likes Squeaky Fromme and the only thing she was known for was trying to assassinate Gerald Ford. She’s talking about how he was a boring president. Even if this is meant to be our narrator the fifteen-year-old. It’s still not appropriate for what we’re reading.
J: There’s a difference between making someone who sounds like a realistic teen who might have prejudices because they haven’t seen things in the world and showing in the book that it’s not okay. Having some sort of voice of reason is really needed for that. Instead there wasn’t.
C: It all begins from the very beginning. The staling of the credit card money was like, “Holy crap.”
E: Who else is weirded out that this author built an argument for Roman Polanski’s awful things that he’s done. I get that you’re doing it with the character but you’ve already shown how skeezy this character is and how he wanted to be like Polanski. So, why do you need to have a narrative about him defending Polanski’s actions.
J: One thing that really bothered me throughout the book was that as I was reading I thought things were misdirection. She’s going through all of these things to distract the readers from the ultimate problem/solution. That didn’t happen.
J: Another thing that was really bothersome to me was how she talked about Anna’s mother. Her mother and her mother’s partner had no identities outside of lesbian mother and lesbian step mother. She kind of painted it in a negative light and alluded to her mother doing it because it was trendy or something. That really bothered me.
E: I’m not vegan but I was not a fan of the comments that were made about vegans and vegetarians. She wrote about them as though it’s a bad lifestyle to have.
J: She was really awful to her sister and it pissed me off.
C: Me too!
E: This is how you know when you’re an adult: when you’re reading a book and you’re saying “All of these adults have a reason to be upset about these things. Your mother had a reason to be angry about you just taking off. Your step-mother has a reason to be mad that you stole $500 from her. Your sister has a reason to be angry that you are being a piece of crap.”
C: Did her dad ever say anything about her shopping spree?
J: He never did anything. What was the point of that? I understand other parts of this book and why they may be included. But, I have no idea why that was included.
E: There as so much build up after. She’s talking about how she’s feeling hot and cold and knows she’s messed up. So, I thought something really bad was going to happen.
C: Yeah like, “My dad is flying his ass from Mexico to LA and taking me home with him. But, he’s putting my ass on the wing of the plane.” There’s no mention of him whatsoever.
E: It was such a letdown.
C: This book was not good.
J: You know, I try to give every book a chance and read through the end just in case.
C: Somebody put this much effort into something I’m giving them a chance.
J: Also, I read this right after I had read some amazing books. I thought you know, that might be why I’m disliking it so much. Maybe it’s just because it wasn’t fair to it because I had just read ACoWAR and Word in Deep Blue, which I loved both of those books. But, then when I was talking through it I realized that wasn’t it. I just didn’t like it. That’s why I changed my rating.
E: Yeah I read this right after reading The Lie Tree which took a little bit to get into. So, I was hoping it would be something like that and had a slow build. But, it really didn’t end up doing anything,
C: I was just disappointed in this book. It had more potential than it delivered.