The Bookshelf: The Girls and Sweetbitter


What do we ask of a book in spring? The stakes are high. We want a compelling voice, a cracker of a story, something to read in the shade of a tree. Nothing too heavy – save those Nordic Noirs for the depth of winter, exactly where they ought to be saved – and yet nothing too insubstantial. This isn’t beach read season, not quite. This is lazy Sunday reading season. This is waiting for a friend at the brunch table reading season. This is train rides on long weekends reading season.

The two we’ve found that are hitting the spot at the moment just happen to be debut novels by two very cool, very young female authors. Both sold for record prices at auction last year, and both had splashy releases earlier this year. Both are coming of age stories, but set on two different coasts, with two completely different stories.

The Girls by (26 year old!) Emma Cline calls California home. It’s sticky: the story will stay with you for a long time after you read it. Loosely based on the Charles Manson murders, it follows a teenage girl who runs away from her cosy domestic life into the arms of a cult full of girls just like her. The foray deep into the mind of a teenage girl is terrifying, not just because some of it might ring true. The book also features some of the most beautiful, haunting prose we might have seen in a fiction release this year. The book shuffles closer and closer to its devastatingly predictable conclusion with clear-eyed, limpid words. It’s dark, but not offputtingly so. It’s un-put-downable.

For something a little lighter, try Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Following a 20-something waitress making a big move to New York, it’s a traditional coming of age story in the sense that Tess, our hapless heroine, gets her first taste of city-living, city-drinking, city-sleeping-around, but with a twist… The whole thing is set in the restaurant industry. Anyone who has ever worked in hospitality will get an unabashed kick out of reading her descriptions of the banter, the sore feet, the after-work drinks, the back-and-forth with the customers. And if you like reading about food – who doesn’t? – you’re going to love reading Sweetbitter. At last, here is an author to capture in words the visceral, primal sensation of eating an oyster, drinking the first glass of summer Sancerre, eating ramen at four o’clock in the morning. Sensations that are wrapped up in time and place, and not just taste. And if you needed anything else to get you over the line, Sweetbitter also has a fantastic romantic subplot (will she or won’t she get with the mysterious, tattooed bartender Jake?) and plenty of New York-centric musings that will make you long for a trip to the Big Apple. 

We've read both and we can't decide which one might be our favourite right now... Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts! 

Words by Hannah-Rose Yee