Title: American Girls
UK Title: My Favourite Manson Girl
Author: Alison Umminger
Publication: June 7th 2016 by Flatiron Books
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 304 pages
Format: Library book
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 an 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.
Shelf it on Goodreads
So here’s the alphabetical run down:
Anna’s character is so unapologetic and I really loved how unique she sounded in a world of YA fiction where female main characters can all blend together. She is 15 and naive and she sounds that way despite the circumstances surrounding her not being exactly appropriate for a 15 year old. But I mean this all in the best way possible. Umminger doesn’t impart her own wisdom as an experienced adult into her character, nor does she make Anna sound too young, which I feel like is the exception, not the rule.
Anna’s half-sister Delia is really interesting and an original character as well. She has some of the best lines, and as much as I enjoyed her character, I still don’t know whether I would like or dislike her in real life, but it doesn’t matter much because she was fabulous to read about.
Dex is honestly my favorite character in the book. I’m not sure I can explain exactly why, but the idea that as Delia’s boyfriend he would willingly (and not in a creepy way) hang out with her younger sister for the summer is just so genuinely sweet. And he was such a stark contrast to Roger, Delia’s ex-boyfriend who is still in the picture.
I love this cover. The illustration and colors really fit the feel of the book. It looks original and the story itself is original, so it’s refreshing in that the book actually fits the cover.
There is a minor crush in the story, but it is not the main plot. There are some detailed descriptions of physical relationships, but they are told in retrospect, either by characters about an experience or in Anna’s head as she thinks about things she’s learned about the Manson girls. So there are some mature scenes, but not experienced first hand by the main character.
I went into this book knowing very little about the Manson girls. It was an interesting way to approach the book because I felt like I was learning about them right along side of Anna. Although one of the main themes of the plot was the comparison between the Manson girls and modern-day bullying, it didn’t feel dark. It was such an interesting comparison, because in both cases the girls feel unaccepted and vulnerable which led them to make bad (or really really bad) choices they wouldn’t ordinarily make.
American Girls was gritty, less of the glittery LA that most teenagers imagine. It highlights the idea that “making it” in Hollywood is not a permanent state of being, it’s a constant battle to stay relevant and to make sure nothing ruins your public image. It felt like such a realistic behind the scenes look at the Hollywood that no one thinks about.
If you like your books with big sweeping climaxes, this one isn’t it. The plot is more coming-of-age, everyday life of one summer. However, Umminger’s writing is so good that a major climax didn’t feel missing.
“And if she ever says something like that again, tell her you are going straight to your therapist and not speaking her her again until your therapist gives you permission.”“But I don’t have a therapist.”“Anna. I hate to tell you this, but you’re gonna need one.”
“Never underestimate the power of youth – not in Los Angeles, at any rate. You can never be too young or too dumb.”“I thought it was ‘too rich or too thin.'”“That’s the East Coast.”
“I don’t want to disappoint you, but your average guy won’t notice anything you change about yourself short of missing limbs. If you came in armless, he might ask if you got a haircut, okay?”
“Tragic is interesting but only if there was no collateral damage, and there always is.”
American Girls is memorable: the characters, the plot, and the writing. Umminger’s writing is superb and I will definitely pick up her next book!