Review: My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger

My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger

Anna has had a miserable year. Everything feels wrong with her life. And rather than stay and face the mess, she steals a credit card and books herself a seat on the first flight out of town to Los Angeles, to crash with her sister. But soon after she lands, cold reality soon dawns on her: Hollywood isn’t the escape she needs. She is trapped in a town full of lost souls and wannabes, with no friends, no cash and no return ticket.

When she’s offered a job researching the murderous Manson girls for a dubious film, she reluctantly accepts – she needs the money. But soon enough, among the fake smiles and glitter-fuelled parties, things turn from strange, to dark, to dangerous . . .

This is not going to be the summer Anna had in mind. 

My Favourite Manson Girl is a chilling story about being young, lost and female. This is a story about how girls disappear.

Anna is a fifteen year old girl who is really struggling to deal with her family situation and so she stole $500 from her mum and got on a plane to LA to visit her older sister. She’s definitely at a point in life where she feels like an adult but doesn’t yet have any rights to do what she wants so she acts out. Her home life hasn’t been easy and once I got to know more about that I felt quite sorry for her – she is definitely someone who is lost and who needs someone to pay attention to her otherwise she may well go properly off the rails.

I have to be honest and say that some of the initial sections about Charles Manson felt like an information dump and I wish it had been better incorporated into the novel. Once I was passed this part though all the references to some of the Manson girls were better because they were written from the perspective of how Anna identified with them. The idea of a teenage girl being fascinated by the Manson girls and wondering how they ended up where they did was really interesting to me. I read my mum’s copy of Helter Skelter when I was 15 and it scared me so much, I still shiver when I think of that book, but the murder of Sharon Tate was the thing that particularly got to me. So Anna’s fixation with these girls and the murder of a movie star made some sense to me; I think I was far more horrified and much  less understanding of what they did than Anna but I could understand why she got so drawn into the lives of these women and how they ended up as murderers. It’s apparent that Anna can identify with how a couple to the girls were before they got involved with Manson,  which leads to a compulsion to learn more but also terrifies her to an even greater degree.

Anna doesn’t feel like she really fits in but she so badly wants to – it’s the age old struggle for teenagers. She makes silly choices and isn’t good at seeing the consequences of her actions but she’s not a bad person. Ultimately, she worries for her sister and tries to make sure that she is ok. The side story of Delia having a sort of stalker was interesting and fitted well with what Anna was learning about the Manson family. It seemed quite apparent to me why Delia wasn’t overly concerned about the stalker but I could see why Anna, paranoid from reading books on Charles Manson, was really worried that something sinister was going on.

I really liked Dex in this book, the way he took Anna under his wing and looked out for her a little. It felt like she really needed that from someone so it was good he was there over the summer. Roger was seriously weird, he was hard to get the measure of but I know that he gave me the creeps.

It was sweet that there is a small element of summer romance in this book too but it was very refreshing that it didn’t come to dominate the story. I think the romance, and who it was with, was the thing that showed that Anna grew up over the summer. I felt that she came to understand that nothing is forever and that she needs to make amends with some people on her life.

This was an interesting novel about the many ways in which girls can be lost. The Manson girls were lost in the most extreme way – drawn into a murderous cult that trapped them, whereas Anna was lost in the way that many of us were at that age – she wanted to be seen by the people around her but they were all so focused on their own lives that she felt she had to do something drastic in order to get attention. In reality, the adults in her life had a lot of problems and needed Anna to just be ok but the lack of proper communication and understanding led to her running away.

Los Angeles felt like a character in its own right in this book and I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel. There was a real sense of the heat and the claustrophobic world of celebrity, and wannabe celebrity. The feeling that once you put a foot wrong you’d be cast our forever, which Olivia was teetering on the brink of and desperate to cling on. There were points when it felt quite dream-like – as if the haze of smog and sun and heat  were so oppressive that it was as if the summer wasn’t real. I think Anna had a sense of this as she went through this summer, like it was almost as if she weren’t there either.

This novel wasn’t what I was expecting it to be – I thought it would be a darker novel but having said that it is aimed at a younger audience than me and so for its target market it is a dark read. It’s still a  good read for all ages though. I rated it 4 out of 5 and would recommend it.

My Favourite Manson Girl is due to be published on 7th June in the UK and can be pre-ordered now.

I received a copy of this book from Atom/Little Brown via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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3 thoughts on “Review: My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger

  1. I have always been horrified by the Manson family and their horrendous crimes, as well as how lost souls can be drawn into a dangerous lifestyle.

    I wasn’t a teenager when it all happened, so I remember it well. Sitting on the patio in my suburban Sacramento home, talking to friends and family, and feeling so horrible for Sharon Tate and her baby, as well as the others.

    Since then, I’ve seen some TV movies and read Helter Skelter, but nothing makes it all so real as remembering where I was when it all happened.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. I love the parallel between the lost Manson girls and Anna. There are a hundred ways of being/feeling lost. Most readers can relate to Anna and her need to get away because of the miscommunication and lack of understanding from the adults in their life, we’ve all been there, on different scales.
    Great review!

  3. Thanks so much for your review. Manson and his acolytes scare the living daylights out of me. I remember it happening like some kind of nightmare. When you see the film of the young girls who followed him it’s difficult to understand their motives so perhaps this book might help.

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