One of our favorite books of 2016 was The Girls, Emma Cline’s stunning debut novel about a 14-year-old girl in suburban San Francisco who gets lured by a group of women into joining a dangerous, Manson-esque cult. Movie rights sold immediately, so we’re looking forward to a big-screen adaptation at some point. Until then, here are some similar titles that have been holding us over.
“THE SECRET HISTORY” BY DONNA TARTT
Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer for The Goldfinch, but her first novel—about a group of misfits at a New England college who fall under the spell of a charismatic, morally questionable professor—will always have our hearts. The narrator, Richard, is the newest member of the group, and finds himself suddenly burdened by some very dark secrets.
“THE VIRGIN SUICIDES” BY JEFFREY EUGENIDES
Over the course of a year in an ordinary suburb of Detroit, the five beautiful Lisbon sisters—Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Cecilia and Lux—all kill themselves, one by one. It’s a haunting, macabre story, narrated in Greek-chorus style by the neighborhood boys who loved them.
“A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD” BY JENNIFER EGAN
Jennifer Egan’s whirlwind tour of the 20th-century music scene mostly follows aging punk rocker Bennie Salazar and his kleptomaniac assistant, Sasha. It’s not as dark as The Girls, but it shares the same meditations on youth and recklessness (not to mention spectacular prose).
“GIRL, INTERRUPTED” BY SUSANNA KAYSEN
Susanna Kaysen was just 18 in 1967, when, after a single session with a psychiatrist, she was shipped off to the McLean psychiatric hospital, where she spent the next two years in a ward for teenage girls. You may remember the movie, with Winona Ryder and a fabulously unhinged Angelina Jolie. But the book, a brilliant examination of the universal angst of adolescence, is worth your time, too.
“SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS” BY MARISHA PESSL
Blue van Meer has spent most of her life as an outcast but falls in with a new crowd at the elite St. Gallway School. Suddenly, like a zanier Secret History, she finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery. The tone is definitely lighter than The Girls, but the theme of doing anything to finally fit in prevails.
“ARCADIA” BY LAUREN GROFF
Lauren Groff rose to fame with Fates & Furies (even President Obama called it his favorite book of 2015). But we prefer her earlier, much darker novel Arcadia, which follows Bit Stone, the first child born in a 1960s commune in upstate New York.
“THE BOOK OF DANIEL” BY E.L. DOCTOROW
Daniel Isaacson’s life is good, on the outside—he has a happy marriage, a young son and a fledgling career in academia. But he is haunted by the deaths of his parents, who were executed for conspiring to sell atomic secrets to Russia in the 1960s. Instead of writing his dissertation, he writes about the case, about his memories and about the radicalism and politics that drove them to their deaths.
“SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF EASE AND PLENTY” BY RAMONA AUSUBEL
The book starts with a straightforward premise: An upper-crust couple in the early 1970s is vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard when they find out that the money is all gone. They respond by each taking off on their own spontaneous journeys, inadvertently leaving their three young children to fend for themselves. It’s weird and often whimsical, but with serious thoughts about class and privilege at a tumultuous time in America’s history.
“PURITY” BY JONATHAN FRANZEN
Pip Tyler (short for Purity) is buried under student debt and squatting with a group of anarchists in Oakland when she gets involved with the Wikileaks-like “Sunlight Project,” devoted to uncovering secrets and sharing them on the web. Think 1960s-inspired commune but updated with 21st-century problems.