"The Girls," (Random House) by Emma Cline
Evie Boyd is a bored 14-year-old in California during the summer of 1969 when she catches sight of a group of laughing, seemingly carefree girls who are dumpster diving across the park. They seem to embody the freedom she craves, but looks can be deceiving: they're part of a Manson family-like cult that later that summer will commit a horrific murder much like the Tate-LaBianca murders that took place in 1969.
Evie, neglected by her acrimoniously divorced parents and in the throes of teenagerdom, is easy prey for the so-called family that surrounds Russell, a magnetic figure a la Charles Manson, and finds herself being drawn into their circle.
Told via flashback by an adrift, middle-aged Evie passing time at a friend's vacation home, Cline's debut novel adroitly shows how subtly a well-meaning, albeit all-consuming, cult can shift into something darker.
Evie fights with her parents, hangs out more and more at the ranch, takes drugs and is mesmerized by the family's communal lifestyle. She becomes infatuated with Suzanne, one of the girls she glimpsed in the park, who takes her under her wing.
Meanwhile, Russell becomes more controlling after a record deal he counted on falls through.
"The Girls" moves at a languorous pace, but all the while the control that the family exerts on Evie slowly tightens. Ultimately, Evie manages to avoid the violent event that the summer culminates in, but reflecting back, she isn't quite sure why. And decades later, she is still haunted that she came so close to committing an atrocious act. She has lived her life in the shadow of that summer, never quite escaping it. "I got the snuffed-out story of the bystander, a fugitive without a crime, half-hoping and half-terrified that no one was ever coming for me," she reflects.