comscore Summer reading guide: Dive right in | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Summer reading guide: Dive right in


    Jessica Loretero, aquarist apprentice at Sea Life Park, poses for a portrait with a favorite book inside the Shark Tank.

For a while it seemed as if slapping the word “girl” on a title virtually guaranteed best-seller status. There was, of course, Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” which kicked off his blockbuster crime series. Then came Gillian Flynn’s twisted domestic thriller, “Gone Girl,” which featured a charming sociopath named Amy and sold nearly 9 million copies in the United States alone, thoroughly debunking the notion that readers prefer “likable” female characters. Last year the mantle was passed to “The Girl on the Train,” by Paula Hawkins, an addictively paced suspense novel that has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide.

But this year, not a single “girl” title has captivated millions of readers in the same way. Sure, there were Kate Hamer’s suspense novel, “The Girl in the Red Coat,” about an 8-year-old’s disappearance, and Monica Hesse’s historical thriller, “Girl in the Blue Coat,” about a teenager’s disappearance in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. Both novels pulled in stellar reviews, but neither broke out in a major way, certainly not enough to knock “The Girl on the Train” off its throne.

Now it looks as if the seasonal drought is over. “Girl” books seem destined to be big this summer, with several juicy and suspenseful novels arriving during the next few months. And while their titles might seem formulaic at this point, their plots and prose often wreak havoc on the tired trope of girls in peril.

In her debut novel, “The Girls,” Emma Cline explores the uncanny appeal of a religious cult for girls seeking refuge from moral uncertainty. Set in Northern California in the late 1960s, the narrative unfolds as an unhappy teenager, Evie, is sucked into a Charles Manson-like cult, seduced by the blissed-out, feral girls in the commune leader’s entourage. Lonely and insecure, Evie follows them like a stray to the farm, where they live in squalor, and tries to ignore undercurrents of violence and sexual abuse.

Cline was all of 25 when the manuscript set off a bidding war among 12 publishers in the fall of 2014. Random House bought it in a three-book, seven-figure deal, and the producer Scott Rudin optioned the film rights. The novel has been lavishly praised by writers like Jennifer Egan, who called Cline “a thrilling new voice in American fiction,” and Richard Ford.

With all the hype, Cline’s book, released Tuesday, seems to have a good shot at becoming the must-read novel of the summer. But summer is a crowded publishing season, and “The Girls” faces competition from a number of other compelling novels with partly overlapping titles and themes, including Robin Wasserman’s “Girls on Fire,” Megan Miranda’s “All the Missing Girls,” David Swinson’s “The Second Girl” and Kate Horsley’s “The American Girl.”

It’s hardly a spoiler to note that in each of these novels, bad things happen to girls. Occasionally, and refreshingly, girls also do bad things to other people. In “Girls on Fire” (Harper, out now), Wasserman explores the line where close female friendships can blur into obsession and self-obliteration. The novel opens in small-town Pennsylvania in 1991, when a popular high school basketball player’s body is found in the woods with a bullet in his head, stirring panic about satanic worship. At the heart of the dark story is an intoxicating and all-consuming friendship between two teenage girls, the lonely Hannah Dexter and a magnetic new girl, Lacey, a rebellious, Nirvana-loving grunge groupie who flirts with Satanism.

Female friendship is also a central theme of Miranda’s intricately plotted thriller “All the Missing Girls” (Simon & Schuster, June 28). The novel opens as a young woman named Nic returns to her hometown, a decade after her best friend disappeared. Nic has been back in town only a few days when another young woman goes missing. Miranda brings heightened suspense and a twist to this familiar scenario by telling the story, which unfolds over 15 days, in reverse chronological order.

More girls go missing in “The Second Girl” (Mulholland Books, out now), a hotly anticipated thriller by David Swinson, a retired Washington police detective. The novel, which kicks off a new detective series, features an investigator who becomes a hero when he happens upon a kidnapped teenage girl during a stakeout of a drug dealer’s house. He’s recruited to find another missing girl and worries that the high-profile assignment will expose his cocaine addiction.

In Horsley’s novel “The American Girl” (William Morrow, Aug. 2), a teenage girl reappears (finally) rather than disappearing at the outset. She staggers out of the woods, bloody and disoriented, with no recollection of what has happened to her. As a journalist investigates, questions swirl over whether the girl, an American exchange student in France, is the victim of a crime or a murderer herself.

With the proliferation of “girl” titles, there are signs that the trend may have peaked; it already seems ripe for parody. Comedian Amy Schumer is leading the charge with her much-hyped memoir, out Aug. 16 from Gallery Books, which explores her childhood, her family relationships, feminism and how she broke into comedy. She’s titled it “The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo.”

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