My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger

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My Favourite Manson Girl by Alison Umminger

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luke Marlowe
Reviewed by Luke Marlowe
Summary: Treading a very careful line, My Favourite Manson Girl explores the life of a contemporary teenage girl, with all the angst, emotions and issues that come with it. But, to provide a startling contrast, the seedy underbelly of Hollywood also gets explored – and the lives of the Manson girls, all once corruptible teenagers too, provide a stark but relevant contrast to the problems of our heroine. Engaging and hugely readable, this is a strong read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: June 2016
Publisher: Atom
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1472150844

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Fifteen year old Anna has had an excruciating year, topped off with new stepparents and a new school. So she borrows her family's credit card, and runs away to LA to crash with her sister. But Hollywood isn't the escape she needs, and it soon dawns on her: she's trapped in a town full of lost souls and wannabes, with no friends, no cash and no return ticket. When her sister's obsessive ex offers her a job researching the murderous Manson girls for his next indie film, she accepts – albeit reluctantly. This is not quite the summer Anna had in mind; but the more she learns about the girls and her fate, the more she comes to understand her family – and herself.

The Manson family seem to be back under the spotlight in recent years – despite the fact that in a few years it'll be fifty years since the murder of Sharon Tate, amongst others, took place. Many were convinced that Don Draper's wife Megan would end up like Sharon Tate in the final series of Mad Men, and current TV series Aquarius is exploring the Manson family in some depth. The story of young Americans being corrupted by the hypnotic and mysterious Manson is a horrific and upsetting one, but the events still have a hold on people years later, with Manson still behind bars.

It's not a story that one would expect a young adult book to base themes around – but, rather surprisingly, it fits rather well. Lead character Anna is a headstrong fifteen year old, feeling isolated by changes in her family. Running away, she seeks meaning and change in her life. Now, remove the word Anna from that sentence, and you could replace with any number of the girls who became associated with Manson – and this familiarity is used to great success by Umminger throughout the book. It initially feels like the main plot will be light – Manson girls aside, Anna gets herself a job, worries about school and gets her first crush – all typical teen romance so far. But as this happens, she glimpses a dark, rancid underbelly to Hollywood, either through her struggling actress sister, or through interactions with A-List problem child Olivia Taylor. It all feels very real indeed, and the line between glamour and squalor is a fine one – just like in Los Angeles itself.

The Manson Girl aspect isn't taken lightly either – as Anna reads into the horrific events she gains empathy for the girls sucked into Manson's dark schemes, but is also appropriately horrified by the murders, and those killed are dealt with respectfully. It all adds up to a very interesting read indeed – a fairly quick one, but one that I raced through in the space of a day. With very real characters, interesting plot twists, and a good heart at the centre of darkness – I'd say it's worth a read – and I think suitable for teens 15 and up.

Many thanks to the publishers for the copy – and for further reading I would recommend The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson – another book that deals with adult themes and moments, but in a way that is immensely relatable for Young Adults.

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