Friday, July 1, 2016

ARC Review: American Girls by Alison Umminger

Title: American Girls
Written by: Alison Umminger
Published: June 7, 2016 by Flatiron (Macmillan)
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: 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 an 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. 

This is not my typical read but I enjoyed it. It's a unique contemporary about a girl who is trying to find her way in the world with complex characters and an interesting setting.

One of the more unique things about this book was the plot development. It was a really character-driven story about a girl who wasn't sure who she is and where she wants to be. I love a good coming of age story, but one of the most interesting things about this book was that they characters didn't really come of age. Most of the book was about her just kind of coasting through life making mistakes and then moving on. She is just starting to figure things out as the book ends which I think made for a pretty unique contemporary. I don't this book was trying to be like that. It just wanted to show a summer in the life of a girl who is a little lost and a lot reckless. In that it succeeded.

But the problem is that the stakes were not very high with the plot. There were some elements of mystery to the book but it felt subtle and almost like an afterthought. And it didn't even really have a strong resolution. The book took place over the course of the summer and that was really the only conclusion to the book. Summer was over. It didn't leave loose ends but it just felt a little uneventful at the conclusion, though oddly not unsatisfying.  I'm such a plot-driven reader that I wanted a little more. In the beginning it honestly took me awhile to get into it. It's not a fast read even though it did only take me a few days to finish. It's one that makes you slow down and think which was good but not the kind of book I walk away from loving.

But because this is such a character-driven story there is a lot of focus on the characters. The main character of Anna was really complex and realistic. I liked her voice and the way that she felt like a regular teenager. At times throughout the book she was sometimes vulgar, sometimes reckless, sometimes uncertain. She made all kinds of stupid decisions but at the same time you can tell that she has a good heart and is just trying to figure things out. Anyone who has ever felt like they didn't belong and weren't appreciated can relate to Anna and her struggles throughout the book.

But the secondary characters were just as complex and reckless. Anna is surrounded by self-centered adults making just as terrible decisions. From her mother, to her sister, to the director of her sister's movie. Almost everyone she encounters is a bad example to Anna. Her behaviors made total sense and it made it easy to root and to want her to learn from the mistakes she made and the mistakes of those she interacts with. I think my favorite characters however were the good role models like Dex and Jeremy. But even they were interesting and not caricatures like they could have been. In general there were some good characterizations here.

I think the most interesting thing about this book however is the setting. This is a book all about Los Angelos and how it might relate to the "American Dream." Anna is lost and uncertain and she goes to a place that seems like where you go to make your mark but she quickly finds out it's not that glamorous or easy to do that. It's a rather harsh view of the city. It's a cold and callous place where the glitter wears off. But something about that made it so compelling and made it work for this kind of story. But that really could be anywhere. Anywhere you hold on a pedestal. It never lives up to your expectations and the grass isn't always greener on the other side. I liked that about the setting and the way it fit with the larger themes of the book.

On the whole I liked American Girls despite the fact that it's not a book I would normally read. It was a good character-driven book with complex characters, interesting themes, and a compelling setting.

I give American Girls by Alison Umminger 8 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. This is definitely a unique contemporary read that I think fans of the genre should check out. If you like more character-driven stories that is on the thought-provoking side of things. But if you are looking for a more plot-driven coming of age story this may not be right for that.

Have you read American Girls? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Great review! This was interesting in its setting, I agree, but something was missing for me. This was also so much darker than I expected, not a bad thing but the situation of her sister bummed me out.

    my review

  2. This is the first I've heard of this book and it doesn't sound like my kind of read either. I do tend to like more plot driven books, so I'm not sure I would love this one either... Great review!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds