Book Review: American Girls by Alison Umminger

30192921Title: American Girls
Author: Alison Umminger
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pub Date: June 7, 2016
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 304
Source: Library
Genre(s): YA, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Rating: ★★★★
Goodreads || Buy on Amazon

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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 and 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.

My review:

“I think you can’t expect more from people than they’re able to give. And you’re happier if you don’t hate them for it.”

Anna is fifteen and angsty and done with her life at home. I don’t blame her. She’s been neglected by her own mother, replaced by her little brother, and overlooked by everyone else. We don’t even hear from her father. And then when we are finally introduced to her sister, well, let’s just say that she’s a whole different kind of messed up. Dex is honestly the most “normal” character (and the most likable one) in this book, but I suppose the famous twins are okay, too.

Anna is a thought-provoking protagonist. She’s made her fair share of mistakes and she’s totally against the world, but she’s slowly trying to grow up and learn from those mistakes. That’s all I’m going to say because this novel is definitely character-driven.

With all that being said, American Girls is kind of morbid. It’s a coming-of-age novel with the usual teen angst that comes along with that territory, but it has very dark undertones. I almost felt depressed by the end of it. There’s a lot of talk about serial killers, and a lot of relating to serial killers… so there’s that. Then there are creepy ex-boyfriend/directors and spooky/slut-shaming notes left on doors. Basically, everyone in this book is a mess. But that’s kind of the point, right? Even in “ideal” places like Los Angeles, things aren’t always shiny and new. Everyone is a different kind of f*cked up. But the people in L.A. are especially f*cked up. At least, that’s what I took away from this story.

So yeah, I’m not sure who I’d recommend this book to. This is definitely realistic fiction, and it’s definitely for teens, but it’s not your typical YA fluff. I did enjoy it, if that counts for anything. I was just a jumble of emotions by the ending.

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