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My Favourite Manson Girl

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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.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published June 7, 2016

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About the author

Alison Umminger

2 books100 followers
ALISON UMMINGER grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and as an undergraduate was the fourth woman to be elected president of The Harvard Lampoon. Today, she is a professor of English at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Georgia, where she lives with her family. American Girls is her first novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 579 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,990 reviews298k followers
June 6, 2016
And just for a second, maybe because it was California and you could understand how truly vomit-worthy fame could be only when you were right up next to it, I almost, kind of, understood what it might have been like to be a Manson girl.

I love it when a well-written, thought-provoking, completely different YA Contemporary comes along. And My Favourite Manson Girl was a refreshing, honest spin on the bildungsroman, set under the dreamy, wonderful, ugly Los Angeles sun.

These kind of books are always the hardest to review. The ones with rich writing and strong themes. The ones where you can't quite describe exactly what it is about the plot - a teen girl running away to L.A. and finding parallels between her life and the Manson girls - that is just so damn good. But it really is so damn good.

And strange too. Anna's reading about the Manson girls leads to her noting the way elements of their early lives mirror her own, and it turns into a darkly comic social commentary on modern American girls (which is, interestingly, the U.S. title). It was actually quite interesting to read this so soon after finishing West's The Day of the Locust - one of the most talked about books focusing on the fragility of Hollywood and the American Dream.
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.

But, while the book makes lots of interesting connections between the Manson girls and modern teenagers - I especially liked the way they were recognized as once being regular teen girls with dreams and insecurities - the book is mainly about Anna. It's about the process of growing up, learning to forgive and accept one's parents for being annoyingly human, and coming to realize your own immaturity and selfishness.

Anna's two moms are infuriating, but they love her even while getting so many things wrong. I liked that it wasn't just as simple as right/wrong between Anna and her parents. You can see and understand Anna's frustrations at them, but the book ultimately feels like a forgiving one - in fact, it's all about the ways we screw up, all of us, caught somewhere between selfish interest and doing the right thing.

I also think, having lived here for most of the past two years, that this book captures the L.A. feeling really well. I'm not a native, but I get easily irritated by the melodramatic stereotypes that are so often portrayed whenever a book ventures near Hollywood. Umminger gets it. My Favourite Manson Girl is a book of beachy descriptions and high emotions - it is that feeling somewhere between dreamy-eyed wonder and frustration that perfectly summarizes what it feels like to live in a place of sunshine and celebrities, where extreme wealth and poverty share a doorstep.

The ending really got to me. It was so simple and beautiful, written in a way that made me quite inexplicably emotional - both melancholy and hopeful. Bittersweet is the word, maybe.

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June 15, 2016
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.
For once, a book's blurb is actually worthy of its contents.

This book was surprisingly complex and enjoyable. Yes, I am a skeptic, but for good reason. I've largely stopped reading YA lately, but the premise of this one sounds weird enough, and the setting- Los Angeles- close to home enough to turn my eye.

Being the jaded Southern Californian that I am, I'm pretty wary, and weary, of books that are set in SoCal. The fact is that most books of this sort tend to sensationalize living in LA and Hollywood (spoiler alert from someone who's been there: it sucks, and downtown LA is nowhere near as impressive as TV shows and the red carpet would have you believe).

Therefore, a book set in LA, with a focus on the Hollywood culture and the Manson murders really, really had its work cut out to impress me. But impress me it did.

Fifteen year olds, with all due respects to the fifteen year olds out there, are fairly difficult to bear in fiction. I was one myself, many, many moons ago, and holy crap, I was fucking annoying. A fifteen year old narrator is a difficult thing to execute well, and the main character in this book, Anna, was very well-written, believably immature, and unique, without being grating. I felt like I understood her frustration, her fixation with certain things - like the Manson girls, her skeptical attitude towards her sister and most of the characters she meets in LA.

The book's depiction of LA was well-done. I don't live in LA proper, and with any luck, I never will, but I've been there often enough and I've worked there long enough to get a good feel of it. Yes, the book has strange characters, but what you have to understand about LA is that there are strange characters in LA. I've never lived anywhere else outside of SoCal except for my brief childhood in Vietnam, but from talking to my friends elsewhere, it's more acceptable to be different in LA. It is so diverse here, there are people from all walks of life, people who are straight, gay, etc. People who wear normal clothes. People who don't. One just doesn't even notice them anymore, because they're not a weird person. In LA, they're just a person. One doesn't consider the difference, because of all the diversity. In that sense, I don't find the book's depiction of LA outlandish.

Anna's obsession with the Manson murders may seem strange and morbid, but it actually turns out to be a great theme. There is an excellent commentary on the parallel between the lives of the Manson girls and the cost of fame in modern days.
Sharon Tate was just a name, or a beautiful blonde, or an actress, or the wife of a director, or another woman who really became famous only when her life was over. When she went from being a body on a screen to a body in a bag. I wanted the movie to bring her to life, but the camera seemed intent on making her nothing more than a beautiful face and a banging body. It didn’t seem fair, not to her, at any rate.
It is a rare YA book that contains such depth in such a light manner.
Profile Image for Wendy Darling.
1,631 reviews34k followers
May 6, 2016
Here's the backstory: I had the chance to request this book twice, I chose not to, but it ended up getting sent to me anyway. And I'm so glad it did! It's so different from what I expected.

I tend to avoid glitzy stories about Hollywood like the plague; I live in LA and I worked in film for many years, so I'm thoroughly uninterested in what most people's idea of this town is like (usually gathered from TV or quick vacations or sexed-up beach reads). But this story isn't anything like that--it's about a girl who runs away to LA, yes, but it's also deeply cynical, darkly funny, and somehow affectionate and wistful all at once. The author doesn't live here (anymore?), and yet she expresses the kind of deep feeling and exasperation for this town that usually only people who have lived it and loved it would understand.

I think the threads connecting Anna's story to the Manson girls she's researching might've been explored just a touch more, but overall, I really enjoyed this. It has a moodier, more subversive feel than any other young adult book I can think of, and would appeal to fans of literary fiction and mature YA.

More of a review to come. But wow, another standout from the new YA imprint at Flatiron Books. I'm thrilled to see this level of quality fiction being published for teens.
Profile Image for Laura.
425 reviews1,253 followers
May 23, 2016
A YA contemporary about a fifteen year old girl who runs away to LA, soon getting lost in a research project involving the Manson girls, but she doesn’t fail to find the parallels between the two. This is a coming of age novel told in an original, thought-provoking way.

Anna decides to run away to LA after making some pretty big mistakes back home. Her older sister Delia is barely making it by as an actress there. Regardless spending the summer on film sets, hanging with low-level celebrities, and researching Manson girls sounds like a pretty sweet deal. What she doesn’t necessarily expect is to notice all the similarities between her own life and those of the Manson girls.

She realizes that these girls were really just ordinary girls who ran away to the wrong place (LA) at the wrong time (60s), ended up meeting the wrong person (Charles Manson), and so on. Their lives could have been so much different. Hell, any of us could have ended up a Manson girl... When I really thought about it, I realized this could be the takeaway from this book. That in the right circumstances, it could have been any of us. Or even Anna.

I kind of loved how the children’s TV show set Anna got to spend a lot of her time on was based on Disney’s Suite Life on Deck starring Zack & Cody. Those references certainly weren’t lost on me. The older sister of the boys starring on the show was a version of the female child star gone bad..struggling to stay in the spotlight sort of thing. Think Lindsay Lohan.

I found Anna's voice to be too mature sounding, especially for someone who has so many immature moments. Her voice was a bit precocious. At times there was this added level of humor that helped to balance the darker moments. There was something so simple about the plot I really enjoyed. It feels more like the Manson girls are being used as a metaphor within the story. Alison Umminger captured the setting of Los Angeles beautifully.

This is a good one to pick up if you’re looking for an edgy YA coming of age story.
Profile Image for kate.
1,223 reviews947 followers
May 16, 2017
*original review posted on my blog http://girlreading.co.uk/bookreviews/... *

I think American Girls/My Favourite Manson Girl is possibly the first book that I have felt as though I’ve read a totally different book compared to the large majority of reviews. I don’t think I’ve read a single negative review for this book and yet somehow I just can’t connect the raving reviews, to the pages I read myself? It’s safe to say, I didn’t love this. I had really hoped that I was going to. I should have loved it since it had everything I love in a book, LA, Hollywood, Movies, Mystery, Romance but it didn’t take me long to realise that a romance between me and this book probably wasn’t on the cards. I’m not entirely sure how to go about this review because I have so much to say and no real idea of how to say it, well, say it remotely coherently or eloquently that is. Instead, I think I’m going to show rather than tell and simply leave it up to the quotes and words from the book themselves.

Unless other wise stated, these quotes come from the main character Anna, who’s point of view we follow:

Page 8 – “It had crossed my mind that my sister might be a slut, but a really nice-smelling, clean and carefully closeted slut.” – Anna consistently slut shamed her sister and other girls throughout the book.

Page 10 – “Before mum decided she was a lesbian” – Because this is apparently something you can just ‘decide’? – A stigma and stereotype that doesn’t need anymore miseducation and one that was left unchallenged.

Page 17 – “I started getting more and more nervous, like I was having a panic attack. So I Googled “panic attack” and decided that I didn’t want to start having those at fifteen.” – Again, because apparently this is something you can ‘decide’. – Another unnecessary and uneducated stigma being boosted and once again, left entirely unchallenged.

Page 19 – “If someone had wired her jaw shut, she probably wouldn’t have had to change her diet.” // “When reality sunk in, I remembered that she ate salads without dress when she was starving and seemed to assume that I would just want to do the same.” – Anna made numerous comments regarding her sisters eating habits, all of which felt quite trivialising and slandering towards eating disorders, without going into any depth of the reality of them.

Page 27 – “He had on tight black jeans, a black leather jacket, and had shaved his head into a cancer-victim crew cut.” – I’m not sure I need to explain why, not only describing someone as having a ‘cancer-victim crew cut’, but also using it mostly as an insult is honestly pretty gross and entirely unnecessary…

Page 46 – “I was already thinking of the places I would apply for jobs, maybe the candy store near the lot where my sister was filming. Or one of the ice cream stores with the trendy names and all the girls in line who looked like they kept that ice cream down for about 2.5 seconds.” – Once again, shaming eating disorders and using it as an insult.

Page 54 – Anna’s older sister Delia: “Well, where to start – he’s biracial, but probably whiter than I am.” // Anna about Delia’s dating life: “when it came to actual dating, frat-boy white was last year’s color. In high school, she was strictly interested in black guys. She found the one Nigerian exchange student to take to prom. She once broke up with a perfectly nice biracial kid from the suburbs because he was “too white”. I think Rodger slipped in because he had an accent and wore eye makeup on a semi-regular basis. By sheer virtue of his awesome command of Euro-weird, she must have overlooked the pasty glow of his flesh. Neve mind that she had a lack of pigment rivalled by the walking dead.”– I realise that, being white, I’m not really in any position to say whether or not this is categorically racist but this didn’t sit right with me. It just seemed, once again, entirely necessary. It didn’t add anything to Delia as a character and honestly feels pretty offensive and racist?

Page 56 – “Marilyn Monroe in her fat phase” – Body shaming.

Page 63 – Anna’s Mother: “we don’t know how cancer works. I don’t know what caused this. I don’t know what would make it come back or make it spread, but I do know I can’t have any more stress in my life than I already have.” // “I can’t take the risk that having you hear might make the cancer worse.” – Yes. Her mum essentially blamed Anna for causing her cancer. Charming…

Page 68 – “I thought you told me once there was no such thing as asexual. Just a train from straight to gay with a whole bunch of stops in between.” – Asexual erasure is a very real thing and something I’ve only recently begun educating myself on. This is not only erasure but I’m assuming offensive and once again left entirely unchallenged or revisited.

Page 77 – “there were times when my mom seriously reminded me of a dyked-out Blance DuBois.” – Not sure this needs explaining, nor did it need to be written into a book.

Page 155 – “I would sit in the corner and listen in on people’s first dates, or the baristas bitching about who they thought was throwing up in the ladies’ room.” – Yet again, another trivialisation of eating disorders.

Page 158 – “You don’t have to say anything, do you? You just want to because you have some anorexic teenager buying you pink shirts, and you’re too lazy to work now that the baby is born.” – ‘Anorexic’ being used as an insult, aimed at her fathers new partner.

Page 161 – “How was I supposed to know perfect Paige Parker was a cutter? She was the popular one, what did she have to be mad about?” – Stigmatising self harm and mental illness. These stigmas need to be bought down, not built up and left unchallenged.

Page 214 – “I had breasts, enough that my bra wasn’t just one of those lacy things that flat-chested girls get to be part of the club” – Another example of body shaming…

Page 262 – “But if I had to write a memo to America on what to do to import the future, on how to go back and correct the past, it would be simple: Dear America: Please give your daughters sturdy bedroom doors that lock from the inside. And when they are hungry, give them a place at the table. It wouldn’t solve everything, but it would definitely be a start.” – Despite Anna realising that this wasn’t a solution to rape, the simplicity of the idea that ‘sturdy bedroom locks’ as a solution is what is needed, still left me uneasy.

Given context or not, these passages just didn’t sit well with me at all and almost even more so than the quotes themselves, what bothered me was they were never challenged, apologised for, or (I personally feel) redeemed in anyway. The first 60 pages made me genuinely uncomfortable and not in a good way, as though I was learning or being challenged. Albeit the specific quotes were very saturated within the first 50 or so pages and by the end Anna wasn’t quite so angry at the world and the uncomfortable quotes began to spread out more evenly but despite this, I just don’t see the necessity behind the targeted hate and insults. There was homophobia, ableism and racism. Cancer and Eating Disorders were being used as insults or as trivialising anecdotes. I understand that Anna wasn’t meant to be a likeable character (or at least I assume so, or else I am totally confused at what was going on here) but I just feel as though there must be ways of portraying and creating an unlikeable character, without being outrightly offensive, potentially harmful to the reader, problematic or building up stigmas that people are constantly working hard to bring down. You can make a reader dislike a character without potentially upsetting, miseducating or offending.

All this put aside, I didn’t hate this book. Did I enjoy it? No but I didn’t hate it. Had these quotes been non existent, I probably would have given it around a 3/5 stars. The plot intrigued me and despite my discomfort, I found myself wanting to read on. I also did enjoy the scenes at the film sets and slight insight into that world. But overall, American Girls felt like a book of sub-plots, none of which ever really came to head or had much of an impact or conclusion...

It’s possible that I’m just being uber sensitive and nitpicking at the contents of this book and if that is the case, I fully put my hands up and apologise.

I’m not sure I have too much more to add to this, well that’s not entirely true. I think it’s more of a fact that I think I could probably ramble on about this for pages and days but that’s probably not in anyone’s best interest, nor do I think it’s wise to stumble into the phase of being even more incoherent than I have probably already been. So with that being said, I think I’m going to leave it here. I have a review for this book on my blog as well, so whether or not you've read, I'd love to know what you think in the comments over there!
Profile Image for Rose.
421 reviews591 followers
June 14, 2016

Hello, perfect book.

Guys, I'm already dying inside because I don't know how I can possible put my adoration for this book into words. It's a YA contemporary that isn't focused on romance... aka something I practically NEED if I'm going to enjoy it. There's hardly even a plot, imo... but it was addictive, realistic, and so honest.

On paper, everything about this book should be a clear no from me. But I loved it anyway.

I always pictured LA to be this perfect paradise where it was always warm and people were always happy. But there's so much of LA that people don't know, and that I never did. I remember on my 17th birthday, me and my sister (15 at the time) went to LA by ourselves and met up with 10 other friends. We stayed at the Sheraton in freaking DOWNTOWN LA, and had a 25 year old rent us a car to drive around for a month............. please.. just picture that. It was actual insanity. Fun, but complete insanity. (Not even including the fact that my parents have no clue this trip ever happened.) I literally blew all my money, sat next to a boyband at Saddle Ranch, got robbed by a psychic, waited 4 hours for a pizza delivery, plus way more weird shit.

So long story short: LA's so much weirder than people think.


But anyway, Anna's whole running away at 15 and flying by herself was so relatable to me. When life gets messy some people stick it out, and some people run. Some people sell off all their parents old wedding gifts to pay for it (me), or some people like Anna, steal their stepmom's credit card.

And then sometimes they end up living with their beautiful, aspiring actress, and slightly messed up sister, Delia. Delia aka the girl who sends Anna to work with her boyfriend, Dex, everyday as she works on a film with her creepy ex. Throw in famous twin actors, getting paid to research the Manson girls, Anna's possibly psychotic mom and stepmom, and a possible stalker?

Welcome to Los Angeles.


"Will you be okay here by yourself tonight?" Delia asked. "It's perfectly safe, just don't do anything stupid like unlock the door or go for a walk. Remember, in LA pedestrians are just roadkill waiting to happen."

So basically: American Girls made me laugh like an idiot (it totally had my sense of humor), had honest conversations about parents, life, dreams, and the Mason girls, and was such an enjoyable read. I could reread this book forever. And I'm secretly hoping for a sequel that will probably never happen. I can dream, right?

sidenote: LA can be pretty normal too, obviously, i'm just pointing out that it is so much different than what a lot of people think. It's still one of my favorite cities ever :)

Thank you to Flatiron for the ARC :D
Profile Image for destini.
239 reviews501 followers
July 11, 2016





Yeah, I guess you could say I found this book funny *has a flashback to all my statuses of me laughing* okay, hilarious is probably the word.

I don't know what I could say about American Girls that hasn't already been perfectly said by many other reviewers. That it's completely original? Unlike every other formulaic, pseudo-teen book out there? Because it's all that and more.

It's told by the refreshingly witty and sarcastic Anna, who's just run away to LA. It's a bildungsroman without sounding condescending and completely unrealistic. And it's a story I could completely relate with.

This part of the review gets a little personal, so if you're not into that then just skip to the end.

When I was in high school, my sister ran away. She left everything, her credit card, her phone, everything and anything we could use to find her with. It was one of the scariest, most traumatic times in my life. We were really close and her leaving devastated me. Amongst other things, she was having a lot of problems with our mom. They would both get angry and hurt and just say the worst things to each other just to see who could hurt the other the most. Times were shitty to say the least.

American Girls was a little different, and yet, just like Anna with the Manson girls, I still found ways to relate. I understood Anna's perspective. No child should ever be subjected to some of the things she was put through. I also understood Cora's perspective. It's not easy to be a parent (understatement) and sometimes you just fumble through it, thinking that you're doing the right thing, hoping that you're doing the right thing. Witnessing it myself, I totally grasped how convoluted and complex the situation was.

End of personal time, you're safe now.

American Girls conveys many important messages and deals with relevant topics that'll speak to everyone. It's not about romance, or angst, or anything like that. To be completely honest, I don't really know what it's about. I just know that it's a must-read. A novel that speaks volumes but has a humor that doesn't make this book suffocating.
And just for a second, maybe because it was California and you could understand how truly vomit-worthy fame could be only when you were right up next to it, I almost, kind of, understood what it might have been like to be a Mason girl.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,404 reviews11.7k followers
June 2, 2016
A pleasant surprise.

The plot is fresh and unlike anything I've read in YA.

I wasn't that wild about the Hollywood plot like until I opened the book. The story is exactly the way it is described in the summary - traipsing around movie and TV sets, rubbing elbows with celebrities, researching Manson girls. And yet it all adds up to a very personal and intelligent story about being a young girl and doing stupid and sometimes unforgivable things for no good reason.
Profile Image for Lynx.
198 reviews83 followers
July 27, 2016
Things at home haven’t been the same since Annas mom left her father, for another woman no less. With a new step mom and baby in the family, Anna gets the feeling she’s more of a tolerated nuisance then beloved member of the family. So when Anna decides to “borrow” her stepmom’s credit card to score a plane ticket to glamorous LA to visit her sister Delia, it’s no surprise that they seem to be more concerned about the money then her. She’s to stay for the summer, work to repay her debt and come home before school begins.

Scoring a research assistant job on an indie flick her sister is starring in, Anna finds herself immersed in Manson Family literature. With each book she devours she’s closer to paying her debts but with it comes this uneasy feeling she just cannot shake. It isn’t until the director says he wants her to not only research but to get into the mindset of the Manson girls does she realize it isn’t the subject matter thats freaking her out, but how easy it is to do just that.

There are a great many YA novels that extend well beyond the title of YA. Ones where the characters may be teens but the story can reach people of any age. For me, this book fit the YA genre title perfectly. Had I read this in my early teen years I probably would have been head over heels in love with it but the window for me to truly connect has passed. That doesn’t change the fact that this is very well written and has great character development. Highly recommended for teenagers or those who love true YA novels. 3.5/5
Profile Image for Sarah Elizabeth.
4,739 reviews1,306 followers
May 10, 2016
(Source: I received a finished paperback copy of this book for free on a read-to-review basis. Thanks Little Brown Book Group UK.)

This was a YA contemporary story about a girl visiting her sister in LA for the summer.

Anne was a bit of an annoying character really, although I did feel a bit sorry for her the way her mother treated her. I’d personally have been a bit hacked off though if my daughter stole my wife’s credit card and flew across the country to LA using it.

The storyline in this was about Anne getting to LA by ill begotten means, and basically staying with her sister for the summer. She meet a few actors/actresses/producers, and had a bit of a romance with a boy called Jeremy, but every time an interesting storyline came along, it seemed to just get forgotten again, and the book became a bit slow and dull. I also didn’t really get the whole ‘Manson girl’ storyline.

The ending to this was okay, but I wasn’t sure that Anne had really learned anything whilst in LA at all.

6 out of 10
Profile Image for Amanda Minnock.
201 reviews47 followers
July 24, 2016
Thank you to Little, Brown Book Group UK & Alison Umminger for my copy of the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

A coming of age novel that wasn't the best read for me to be honest 2.5 stars. I was always wondering where it was going and why which started to bore me.

Anna has taken flight from home as things are not easy at the moment, with a mother going through a midlife crisis and a father with a new fiance she starts feeling unwanted and detached. she steals her mother's lesbian partners credit card and gets on a plane to LA to her older sisters. When all is outed they allow Anna to stay and work in LA for the Summer and allow her time to pay the money back she stole. Anna finds her first job researching The Manson Girls, hanging around with celebrities and even her finding a summer crush... but nowhere feels as good as home.

I did find Anna hilarious at times, she was witty and seemed seriously cautious and mature for someone who was off the charts and would run away and be so selfish. She is pretty morbid for a fifteen-year-old I must admit, I don't know anyone around that age researching The Manson Girls during their Summer break but hey! each to their own.

I couldn't connect with any of the characters and I think this was because of the plot, I'm still unclear what it was and what was going on, and it was going at all different angles. Like the stalker, the sisters ex, the troubles at home, the tv sitcom, researching The Manson girls... what the hell?! It had the foundations there to make a good book but it just didn't do it for me.

Jeremy was so sweet like seriously he was just a little ball of loveliness and the way it was between him and Anna stuck a chord. It reminded me of my first crush, the sheer awkwardness of the friendship and wondering what the other was thinking then all the awkward opportunities of the first kiss but you do something to make it weird, ahhh to be a teen again!

The book is for someone who likes coming of age without a solid plot, it's a quick read and it will make you laugh at points.

check out my blog! www.amandaminnockx.tumblr.com thanks.

"I closed her computer and hid it under a pillow. For all I knew Roger was hexing us both."
Profile Image for Paige (Illegal in 3 Countries).
1,248 reviews393 followers
Shelved as 'abandoned'
July 18, 2016
...No. I gave it fifty pages. Here are quotes from my ARC that illustrate my decision:
I found [Leslie Van Houten] by accident, reading an article in the waiting room of the lady-parts doctor my mom was going to when she was trying to get pregnant with my brother. (ARC, p. 1)

Lady-parts doctor. The prologue this comes from is written as though Anna is older now and is reminiscing on the moment. If so, surely she can use the proper title (OBGYN, fertility doctor, or something else that's correct). Just not this.
Nasty, filthy America, where you could put a person on trial for being an asshole, and supersize transsexuals ate dog shit off of lawns, at least in the movies. (ARC, p. 2)

This is about the film Pink Flamingos, in which drag queen Divine legendarily eats real dog shit. No stuntwork or fake poop for her! HOWEVER. Divine was a gay man and a drag queen. He explicitly said he was not transgender or transsexual, so the use of "transsexual" to describe Divine is both inaccurate and gross. It's not a word we commonly use anymore and it's seen as bad by some.
It had crossed my mind that my sister might be a slut, but a really nice-smelling, clean, and carefully closeted slut. (ARC, p. 8)

When my mom became a lesbian[...] (ARC, p. 23)

Before my mom decided she was a lesbian, I thoughts lesbians were all these nice, earthy, crunchy, "let's smother you with our extra twenty pounds of lady love and fight the power" people.

Emphasis mine. Again, WHAT?

No matter how the story is intended to be read or told, all these quotes rub me entirely the wrong way.

All quotes were double-checked against the finished copy.
Profile Image for monica kim.
202 reviews6,042 followers
June 7, 2016
Thanks Flatiron for sending me a copy of this book in advance to review!

I'm still processing everything, but I can say that I adored this book. This is not the kind of book that leaves you feeling good or satisfied at the end. These characters aren't ones who will give you feels or make you fall in love with them. The story dives into the idea of the quiet emotional cruelty often expressed between people who love each other. It's about being lost and sad and broken. It's about bad decisions and forgiveness. Will have a full review up on Youtube shortly.
Profile Image for Theresa.
232 reviews141 followers
July 5, 2017
"American Girls" by Alison Umminger is an edgy and entertaining YA novel. I really enjoyed the premise and the protagonist, Anna, even though she makes questionable choices. Anna is a 15 year-old "troublemaker" who runs away from home to visit her self-centered/aspiring actress sister in Los Angeles. Anna is more of a lost soul than anything. Her mom is a nightmare (emotionally immature). It's not a big surprise why Anna acts out in weird and self-destructive ways. I thought the character development was good, but I didn't really think Anna needed a love interest halfway through the novel. It caught me off guard. Anna is not a cliché-ridden character. She's not sweet, generous, or all that likeable. She's human. Teenagers make shitty decisions. That's how they learn and grow. The whole Manson girls subplot kept me intrigued. It might not suit everyone but I liked that unfiltered quality in Umminger's writing style. I thought it was funny how Anna constantly compared herself to the Manson girls even she's NOTHING like them. I thought the ending was a bit rushed, but overall, I thought "American Girls" was a well-written/unique/quirky little gem. Enjoy!
July 10, 2016

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AMERICAN GIRLS was a quirky, interesting read. It's about a girl named Anna who has a massively dysfunctional family. Her mother had a midlife crisis after she came out as a lesbian, only to have yet another inseminated child. Her father is married to a woman half his age. And her sister, Delia, is off in LA somewhere, making a tenuous living as a bit actress.

After a high school prank goes terribly wrong, Anna decides she can't take anymore and it's to LA she flees, to a sister who isn't all that pleased to see her and is busy wrestling with demons of her own.

Anna is a flawed heroine in the best sense of the word - she's self-conscious, awkward, selfish, and yet, she really does try to be a good person. It just takes her a while. She's also morbid as hell, and has a dark sense of humor that made me cackle while also looking around guilty, like maybe I oughtn't to laugh.

I noticed that the UK version is titled MY FAVOURITE MANSON GIRL and this title actually makes sense, because Manson is one of Anna's morbid interests and at one point during her stay in LA, a creepy indie producer actually hires her to do some research about Manson and his gang and give him her thoughts about the girls and the cult and everything. AMERICAN GIRLS, on the other hand, seems a bit vague, and its reference in the story isn't all that crucial, whereas Manson is.

AMERICAN GIRLS actually reminds me of a book I used to love in high school. It was called BLISTER by Susan Richards Shreve, and it was also about a girl making her own way in the world after a traumatic family event. Both books deal with being a poseur, bullying, selfish parents, and travel, set against the backdrop of typical YA coming-of-age themes.

Give it a read. If nothing else, it'll make you laugh inappropriately. Thanks for the free copy, Netgalley!

3 to 3.5 stars!
Profile Image for Jen Ryland.
1,548 reviews912 followers
June 14, 2016
An interesting, thought-provoking book that's not really for those readers who need a strong plotline.

Anna is fifteen, angry at her mother and probably feeling a little displaced (her mom is expecting a new baby) steals her mom's girlfriend's credit card number and buys herself a ticket to LA to stay with her older sister, Delia. Delia, in turn, is a struggling actress who is sleeping with Roger, her creepy, egotistical director behind her boyfriend's back.

As a way to pay back the money she "borrowed," Anna gets a job with Roger researching the Manson girls for a movie he wants to make. Through the story, Anna discusses one Manson girl after the other.

American Girls had the kind of drifty plot I can enjoy if the writing is good, and it was. And I always love a slightly seedy LA setting (much better than the glitzy LA setting imo). Though this was supposedly set in the present, I kept having this weird sense that the story didn't feel current -- Anna felt like one of the kids I knew growing up in the 80s. (There were a few cell phones thrown in, but I wasn't entirely feeling the 2016 vibe).

Anna's fascination with the Manson cult did feel very real to me -- at her age I went through a huge Ann Rule reading phase. Anna's overall assessment of the Manson girls was a little troubling: she seemed to think of them as just girls who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and made "bad choices," like she did with the credit card. I found this takeaway a little disturbing and highly debatable -- while I do agree that one mistake can change the course of a person's life, I really disagree that anyone in the wrong place and the wrong time could just .... whoops ... deliberately go out and murder a bunch of innocent people. This could make a good book club discussion!

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July 8, 2016
Okay, so I was going to give this two stars but the ending really killed it for me. By really, I mean it dug up the rotting corpse of dead hopes I had about this book being good and lit them on fire. I'm so angry with the ending. I'm also angry that it nose dived so fast.

The first half or so was really interesting and good. I was happily chugging along and then...

It's about this girl who has the shittiest people in her life. She gets fed up, steals the credit care from her mothers' wife, and flees to California. As punishment for this, she's allowed to stay for the summer and is told she needs to pay her back and buy her ticket back. (Which, btw, somehow costs $500 -- who the fuck would pay that for a one way ticket -- or, more to the point, who'd pay that to get back?) One of her sister's exes "pays" her to research this film that's based on the Manson family murders.

This is all interesting to start with but halfway through, it completely loses momentum and becomes this weird romance (that's mostly insta.) That carries the book through to the end, for the most part.

Okay, so I get the message was supposed to be "no place like home" or even "Hollywood isn't always as nice as it seems" but I came away with the fact that she should just take the abuse that's being handed to her and feel like a shitty person if she doesn't want to put up with it. That horrible girl!

Since the plot is nonexistent, we get most of the stuff from the characters. And I hated them all, save maybe Dex, who is completely colorless and lets himself get used for the entire book. I even hated the MC about 80% of the way through. Most of the book I was like 'eh' but at the end? When she started agreeing with them?

Her mother is this fucked up woman who's had god knows how many relationships and blames Anne for everything. At one point, she even blames her cancer on her. "Oh, hello Dear. I have cancer. BTW, it's your fault. That's why I don't want you to come home -- er, and it's for a lesson! A lesson!"

Her wife's response to the stolen credit card is "is she a psychopath?" I'm not joking. Psychopath? REALLY? How about it's a cry for help? Or a big fucking sign she's not adjusting well? Oh wait, that's right. She must be Ted Bundy.

The rest are all fucked up, including her best friend, and like everyone guilt trips her. The slut shaming was also disgusting. I didn't like her sister but come on.

And then we get to the end and she just believes that, yes, she should take all the shit her family does to her and she should just do whatever her psycho bff wants, and all that was obnoxious but then her sister seriously says she should apologize to her mother? What?

She tries to be "deep" about shit and it's just obvious she has no idea what she's talking about. Like one of the Manson girls was molested and she wasn't allowed to eat at the table, and the take-away for Anne was that every kid should have doors that lock from the inside and you should feed kids when their hungry. Note, said Manson girl wasn't starved. She just didn't eat with the family. This is supposed to be such a deep thing and it's just like WHAT?


NOT! References to classic literature do not make your book look "deep". Calling a fucking teenage fling equivalent to the Great Gatsby is horrifying? Did she read that book? Are you fucking kidding? The only thing I feel glad of is that there weren't any Wuthering Heights references (about Cathy and Heathcliff's steamy "love affair".) This is a pet peeve of mine. IS IT TOO MUCH TO ASK AUTHORS TO READ THE BOOKS THEY REFERENCE?!

The most insane thing, though, the reason given why she should go home is because "anything is possible". No kidding. So her family thinks she's a psychopath and her mother thinks she causes cancer but there is a chance that some magical fairy is going to float around and sprinkle happy family dust over everyone and they'll all be happy together MAYBE. That that chance, the incredibly improbable wish, is good enough for her to stay in an abusive situation because WHO KNOWS?!


This is what I (honestly) felt when I finished it. I do mean honestly. I'm not being overly dramatic.

This went to a decent coming-of-age story to a fucked up, purple prose encrusted morality tale. Morality tales... Yup, another pet peeve of mine.
Profile Image for Jeff Zentner.
Author 9 books2,232 followers
August 5, 2016
I read this book in parallel with Emma Cline's THE GIRLS and it provided a masterful one-two punch.

AMERICAN GIRLS is an extraordinary book that takes on difficult issues of American girldom in an unflinching way, and with empathy and heart to spare. It shines a light on parts of the American experience we often overlook. It's one of those books that's so rich, complex, emotionally nuanced, wise, and layered, if you're anything like me, you're going to be thinking about it for a long time. It has a LOT to say. I love bittersweet, melancholy books, and this book delivered the bittersweet and melancholy masterfully. Alison Umminger (who apparently teaches college kids how to write, and it shows) is a force to be reckoned with.
Profile Image for lp.
358 reviews66 followers
June 13, 2016
What a great idea for a novel. I am a huge fan of Helter Skelter and have been obsessed with the Manson murders since I was a teen, so I saw so much promise in investigating a teen girl finding her way through the scope of this fascinating tragedy.

But in the end, this book just proved why YA can be bad and not suitable for adults in search of good writing. The characters were despicable and the writing was poor. Anna tells you, in uninspired teen talk, everything she is thinking.

It felt like my mom, my dad, my sister, they could all just take one relationship, trash it, and go on to the next thing, start building again, and expect everyone else to be excited. To throw a freaking party. But what about me? I was the leftover from my mom's second marriage, about to get promoted to being the leftover from my dad's first.

Anna has no self-awareness or inner inspection, and I find that excruciating and unbelievable. I also felt like I was supposed to pity her, and I did not. I felt like I was supposed to see parallels to the girls taken by Manson, but I did not. Not really. Not in an interesting way. In a "teens sometimes go through confusing emotions" kind of way.

Everything was tied up in an unbelievable rom-com bow.

"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," he said. "I think I'm going to apply to colleges next year, see if I'm good at anything." Then he smiled again and looked me dead in the eyes. "Or maybe I'll just do more of this?" Then he leaned his body into mine and kissed me again. If those were his future plans, they were find by me.

Ew. I didn't even want this romance to happen because I wanted so badly for someone to see what a horrible person Anna was. I was not rooting for her.

There were parts that I thought could be funny (Anna befriending the teen stars of a dumb sitcom Chips Ahoy!, which I actually feel like is a real show?) and reading about Hollywood and LA is so fun. But basically nothing that happened would ever happen.

I am tired of adults in YA being so gross and self-involved. They're so black and white! They're either totally cool and perfect or blame their children for their problems and become totally negligent. (In this book, it's the later. And I'm not even reading between the lines, here. That message is beat down on the reader's head.)

This was just so disappointing. Read Emma Cline's The Girls instead.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 7 books1,212 followers
May 10, 2016
Some things in this book worked really well -- Anna's voice is good, as is the emotional arc she has in figuring out that life isn't always better in a place that's not your home, the realistic pull-and-tug of her family life and struggles with her mom and dad and Lynette. But a lot of other stuff in this book didn't work well -- the Manson girls thread was pretty weak and the tie-in to what Anna did to Paige at school felt like a real stretch. It was actually the author's note that explained it better than the story itself, which is kind of a shame since clearly it could have been worked at more strongly in Anna's story. The middle of this book really dragged, as a lot of the garbage with Delia and her boyfriend/non-boyfriend and the back-and-forth to the studio was just boring. A lot of nothing happens that could have been summed up more tightly.

I do appreciate that Anna was kinda shitty from start to finish, but it was in acknowledging her being kind of shitty that she grows. That awakening of "man, maybe I'm an asshole, too!" is always a nice one to see in YA, especially when they don't make a final pronouncement that suddenly everything will be much better.

Some solid feminist stuff in here, and it was neat to see a mom-mom relationship. Would be interesting to pair with Scarlett Epstein Hates It Here, especially as Anna and Scarlett kind of have some similar personalities and flaws.

It's interesting this is titled "American Girls" in the US and "My Favorite Manson Girl" everywhere else. There's a lot that could be said about that choice on a number of different levels.
Profile Image for Dahlia.
Author 18 books2,496 followers
January 5, 2016
I read this is one sitting and when it was done, I just wanted more. This is such an interesting and nuanced look at different darkness in teenage American girldom than we've been seeing in YA - different kinds of emotional abuse; complicated relationships between all sorts of familial relationships, the dark side of Hollywood and celebrity, the lack of sympathy and humanization we have for girls we deem to be in stronger positions, and the all-important question of who's worthy/capable of redemption and what does it take to get it? The structure of this book around the Manson girls was particularly fascinating, and I really loved the uniqueness of the approach. Very delighted to have this be my first read in 2016!
Profile Image for Sian Lile-Pastore.
1,228 reviews154 followers
December 31, 2016
Loved this - really readable and page turning and smart and interesting too. May seem like another Manson family book like all the others, but it's more like an examination on the murders seen from the point of view of a fifteen year old in present day. It's really well done - the Manson murders are more of a backdrop to the story - which is actually a coming of age story about a girl running away to LA for the summer. Loved too how it penetrates any glitz and glamour (but not in a cheesy way) and genuinely makes you think that being a celebrity is probably shit.
Profile Image for Rachel Oyedeji.
30 reviews
January 17, 2022

I didn't necessarily not like the book, I just couldn't read it right now. The mc was starting to to become too annoying. I'll most likely finish it later.
Profile Image for Erika.
407 reviews
May 31, 2017
are we absolutely certain that alison umminger didn't just steal the diary of a deeply cynical 15 year old girl? have we verified that it is not the case? *shakes head* give this book all the awards. seriously.

a book about girlhood + the problem with pop culture + the american dream in a dark, sometimes depressing but still laugh-out-loud hilarious hollywood setting. oh, and the manson girls. that too.
If you crossed Mean Girls with The Lord of the Flies and weaponized all of them, then you pretty much had the Manson girls. Death row was sooooooo cliquey.
it's not a coincidence that the book starts and ends with a plane flight, because it does take you on a trip. and when everything comes together in the last chapter, i couldn't help but feel emotional too; i fell in love with the beautiful ugliness of celebrity stardom that was depicted here.
Los Angeles was a freak show of broken hearts and half-fulfilled dreams, full of artists, liars, parasites, and roadkill, all of whom had just a touch of violence in their hearts.
this is one of those times where i really hate my inability to review properly because this is the kind of book that deserves, i don't know, an essay. it definitely isn't, in the main character's words, "YA lit written by barney the dinosaur himself" and that is SO refreshing to see. and like, i laughed my way through this story only to be surprised towards the end by some real truth bombs and really sad realities. i wasn't prepared *sobs for no reason*
Another night meant another club opening. Another grisly murder. Another love story.
Profile Image for Abbie.
1,976 reviews581 followers
May 10, 2016
(I received a copy from Netgalley, In exchange for an honest review.)

Actual rating - 2.75

This wasn't a great read for me unfortunately. It started out quite slow, and got worse as it progressed. It dragged quite badly because of it, and I felt bored for a lot of it.

Overall, Not a very enjoyable read for me.
Profile Image for Bee.
430 reviews847 followers
August 31, 2016
I really liked the LA setting - I don't think I've read anything set on the West Coast. Also, it mostly takes place on film sets, so there's a lot that makes this story original. I really enjoyed the complexity of the main character and how she dealt with her hypocrisies, but the whole Manson murders element did nothing for me, and I don't actually think it added anything special.
Profile Image for Ashley Blake.
Author 14 books4,601 followers
December 22, 2015
This book is titled very appropriately. I'm sort of in awe of Umminger's ability to weave in so many different types of lives, stories, and experiences and show the reader a portrait of...American Girls. From the Manson Girls to Anna, the books cynical and lonely 15 year-old MC, to her actress sister, the women in this book shine--sometimes very darkly--revealing parts of American culture and emotional violence that we so often ignore. This book is bittersweet and funny and honest. Anna is fully real and messy. This book, my friends, is one that everyone needs to read.
Profile Image for Peach.
97 reviews103 followers
June 28, 2016

I could've sworn I reviewed this already. Womp.

Anna's life is a hot mess. Her sister, Delia, has ditched the family to pursue a career as a failing actress in LA. Her mother is a newly-minted lesbian with a baby boy named Birch. As in, tree bark and/or the ever-unappreciated Hoenn Pokémon professor. Anna refuses to tolerate any of them any longer, so she steals a credit card and hightails it to LA to find her sister, who takes her in, albeit hesitantly. Shortly after she moves in with Delia, she's provided the offer of researching the Manson girls for money.

Here's the thing: I nearly DNFed this. The first chapter is an ode to Charles Manson (oh, how I wish I were kidding) and I do. not. give. a. shit. I feel like when you're involving something real-time in your book, it could go either way. This is half of Anna & Delia's story, half of Charles Manson's and his followers. If you've ever watched an E! Special and/or read Wikipedia on them, you might already know everything this book contains. A Study In Charlotte was the same way, except with the story of Sherlock and Watson. If I wanted to learn thousands of unnecessary Snapple facts, I would've ran to Google.

We also receive stupidity, such as this:

"Ass pox?"
"At least, that sounds edgy," Delia said. "Herpes' sounds like something a really dirty Muppet would get."


"Okay, they had choices, but Susan Atkins said that he could see right through her when he met her. And she wasn't the only one."
"Anna," Dex said. "Never underestimate the power of telling a person exactly what she wants to hear."
He was talking to me like I was an idiot. And he was missing the point.

I don't know who would pay a fifteen-year old to research Charles Manson in the first place. I don't think someone that young could grasp the importance of something so gruesome. She kept comparing herself to a "Manson girl" as if she were one? (In her author's note, Umminger even said she didn't enjoy the research for this book. Understandably.)

Also: Anna's mother is a horrible person. Later in the novel, What the actual hell, woman?!

Delia reminded me of my own sister in a few ways. For those who may've been annoyed by her, obviously don't have an occasionally annoying sister. How LA wasn't viewed as a place filled with brainless blonde idiots (i.e. Tell Me Three Things, L.A. Candy) was a relief as well.

"So I had a breakthrough," he said, and he took my sister's face between his hands, like he was going to make out with her or snap her neck in one swift move. "I know. I know who you are."
"That's reassuring," I said. "You did live together for five years."
My sister glared and Roger ignored me. Just like old times.

I had no idea American Girls and My Favorite Manson Girl were the same book, actually. It's a The Anatomical Shape of A Heart/ Night Owls situation. I requested this for the cover, really. It's not really a YA providing a substantial sisterly relationship either. Their mother is trainwreck-y and Delia recommends therapy as the only solution. It's an okay novel, but not worthy of a recommend.
Profile Image for Tiff.
581 reviews536 followers
July 27, 2016
Review originally posted on Mostly YA Lit:

A strange and wonderfully written book that doesn’t really feel like a YA, but more like an adult book with YA characters (if that exists). American Girls is heavy on theme, low on plot, and uniquely fascinating, tying together the Manson girls, a coming of age story, the seediness and glamour of LA, and a family story. I’m a little floored by this book, and if I hadn’t been in a huge reading slump while reading it, this may well have been a 4.5 to 5 star book. It’s that different and special. Despite my slump, though, Anna’s story of running away for a summer in LA with her actress sister and the strange characters she encounters is tightly told and full of anecdotes and ideas that would be good for anyone 15 or older. I’m not sure I Would recommend this to a younger or less mature teen since the ideas are definitely complex. I appreciated the emphasis on the family dynamics, the very slow-burn romance, and the weirdness of spending time on TV and movie sets and watching artistic processes. I also appreciated that Anna was both incredibly smart and incredibly flawed. A really unusual debut, but one that will stick with me.
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