If coming-of-age, true crime, and Hollywood are all your thing: check out the novel American Girls by Alison Uminger. I recently revisited it after reading it for the first time in 2017, and it truly hasn’t aged. This novel tells the story of a teenage girl named Anna who buys an impromptu plane ticket to LA for the summer, without her parents’ knowledge or consent. Staying with her model-actress sister and working to pay off the ticket to return home, Anna must reckon with her own flaws as well as the messiness of her family life. To top it all off, she is assigned research about the Manson family, and begins to realize their stories may not be so far off from her own.
The thing I particularly enjoy about this book is the merging of two time periods. As someone who enjoys learning about history and true events from a modern perspective, inserting pieces of 1960s California and its cult boom into a 2016 story of teenage rebellion is smart and engaging. As the reader grows up over the summer alongside Anna, they experience that restless adolescence that the Manson girls may have, connecting the dots between past and present. Anna makes these connections for herself as well, and they result in change in her relationships and more.
Another strong element–the subtleties of the character design for each side and main character in this novel. The reader can feel the desperation of washed up child star Olivia Taylor, the cool facade of Anna’s sister Delia, and the pressure put on actor twins Jeremy and Josh. Each character has quirks and details that make them feel real, like decorations in the set of LA itself. The city is described in a real way, not romanticized or overly gritty. Delia gets mugged in a sketchy neighborhood, and Anna sees the effects of homelessness on poorer populations. The book doesn’t shy away from the legends of Los Angeles, but unravels them in a real and tangible light.
The novel synopsis puts it this way: “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.” This description is spot on, and captures the heart of the lessons I gleaned from this title. For fans of Emma Cline’s hit fiction piece of the summer of 2020 “The Girls,” or anyone ready to delve into sunlight-tinged social commentary, check out “American Girls” now.
*Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
By Leah Ollie, Senior, Whitney Young Magnet High School