{Review} AMERICAN GIRLS by Alison Umminger

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

  I WOULD NEVER HAVE GONE after my mother with a knife, not while a credit card was cleaner and cut just as deep.

(pg. 5, US ARC edition)

“I thought about the Manson family, driving around with blood on their hands, and how in Hollywood, you couldn’t tell the killers from the actors. If there was a stranger place on earth, I didn’t know where.” 


I like books that deal with Hollywood and celebrities, but they so often only deal with the glitzy side of life. AMERICAN GIRLS digs in and looks at the Hollywood's underbelly. Not everyone can be rich and famous, a household name across the country. Many actors are struggling to survive and get by and can barely make the B-List or even the C-List. They'll take any job they can, even if it's embarrassing or shameful. They'll do things they're not proud of. They'll turn into people they hate. AMERICAN GIRLS looks at all this and more, while at the same time twisting in history about Charles Manson and the Manson Girls, as well as the plight of growing up in an uncertain world.

Anna hates her life. Her mom and her mom's wife don't care about her now that there's a new baby in their life. Her father and her father's fiance also don't spend a lot of time with her. Her mother can be really nasty and seems to regret Anna's very existence. Sick of her life, Anna "borrows" her mother's wife's credit card and runs away to L.A. where her sister lives. But even life in L.A. isn't everything she's dreamed of. Her sister does crazy things to make it in Hollywood, from practically starving herself to being friendlier than she should with an ex-boyfriend. Anna has to work in order to pay back the money she took, as well as pay for a flight home at the end of summer. For one project, she has to read everything she can about the Manson Girls in order to get into their mindset so her sister can excel in a movie role. Reading such horror stories makes her scared that someone might be stalking her sister....but also scared that she can see parallels between herself and some of the Girls. Anna's experiences in L.A. change her and begin formulating her as the adult she will soon become.

This book takes a close look at family relationships. Anna goes through a lot at home, and her mother isn't the best in the world. This will resonate with a lot of teens, ones who might imagine running away and going someplace better. It will also show them that "better" is relative and not always all that it's cracked up to be. Even if you have a shitty homelife, there are good elements as well, ones worth remembering. Your family might be messed up, but they're trying, and you have to try, too. Everything can't be about you all the time. There are so many messages just in the structure of Anna's homelife. You can see where she's coming from, but you can also see where other family members are coming from as well. The lines of life aren't black and white. There isn't a 100% "right" or "wrong" answer. 

It was also refreshing to read a teen contemporary where romance isn't the focus of the novel. There's a little bit, yes, but it's not the focus, and when it happens, it's very blink-and-you-miss-it. It's not a forever romance, just a nice summer memory. It's about family, about discovering your identity and facing up to the things you've done. It's about life. In that way the book is very ordinary, even though it's set against the extreme lifestyle of Hollywood wannabe starlets.

The themes in AMERICAN GIRLS are heavier than they appear at first sight, and the book is one that you need to read slowly over multiple sittings in order to think about the complexity of Anna's discoveries. It's not a one-day beach read, but it's definitely a book for the summer!

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG ( There's one kissing scene, and it's very short, not the focus of the book )
Language: PG15 ( cursing, sexual language, language about how the Mansons killed their victims )
Violence: ( nothing "real," but descriptions about how the Mansons killed their victims )
Other:  PG13 ( Commentary on sister's sexual relationships; comments on mother's sex life. One issue of an older character smoking a join.Running away from home and stealing a credit card in order to do so, as well as a case of celebrity theft. )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

I really like that this cover is illustrated. I like that the girls are wearing red, white and blue (even down to their nail polish!!!) because they are "American Girls." 

I also actually really like that the cover cuts off the top of both girls' heads: They are unidentifiable. They could be anybody. Their identities are lost. It says so much about this novel!!!! So does the way the image is "shot." The "photo" isn't the best quality and the girls are pretty--but not special. Very B-List...which is also very true to this book!

I also like the unusual structure of the title, where it is transposed on two t-shirts, and the way the author's name  seems to fade in and out as the illustrated lines bisect it.

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Alison Umminger
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Publisher: Flatiron Books // Macmillan
Received: For Review

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 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.