The Girls from Corona del Mar by Rufi Thorpe
Published by Knopf
Publication date: July 8, 2014
Genres: Book Clubs, Coming-of-age, Contemporary, Debut, Fiction, Literary
When Lorrie Ann and Mia become best friends, Mia believes herself to be the shadow behind Lorrie Ann’s golden girl. By the time they reach high school Mia is even more sure that Lorrie Ann is everything she is not. She is kind, caring and good, part of a tight knit family while Mia sees herself as dark and negative, isolated from her family. At 15 she makes the decision to end a pregnancy and Lorrie Ann stands by her. But fewer than 60 pages into the novel Lorrie Ann’s life is so sorrow soaked as to be unrecognizable from her sunny childhood. Her beloved father is killed in an accident. Then, at 18 when she finds out she’s pregnant, she scraps her dream of college to marry the father. The tragedies in her life multiply while Mia moves further away from their small-town life in Rufi Thorpe’s novel, The Girls from Corona del Mar.
As the novel progresses it is Mia’s life that moves on a more traditional and positive trajectory, despite her belief that Lorrie Ann is the better person and thereby more deserving of good things. But instead of happiness and fulfillment her choices lead to trauma and pain. This allows Mia to idealize Lorrie Ann even further as a saint, until their late 20s, when she makes a choice that is incomprehensible to Mia.
Thorpe is the alchemist, using time, circumstances, and life choices to recast each woman in a life unlike anything they dreamt as girls. In this way, The Girls from Corona del Mar is a provocative look at friendship, perception, and responsibility. Thorpe wades through thorny issues prickling with uncomfortable topics—a woman’s right-to-choose, motherhood, drug abuse, the rights and needs of the severely handicapped. It’s the kind of challenging reading that makes for great book club discussions.
I also appreciated Thorpe’s ability to fully inhabit Mia’s mind from childhood onward. This is especially apparent with the childish definitions Mia applies to Lorrie Ann and herself—Lorrie Ann is beautiful perfection, sweet and caring, while Mia is dark, tough, heartless. As the years pass, definitions fade and boundaries blur, each woman’s choices pushing her further on her own path. Thorpe makes the story a Rubik’s cube of friendship—twist the blocks one way and everything aligns, another flick and nothing clicks. By the time the novel’s last line passed I was uncertain of what I had read. Was it a childhood-friends-growing-apart story or something darker—a friendship that never was? In The Girls from Corona del Mar, and as sometimes happens in real life, there is no way to know.
If The Girls from Corona del Mar sounds interesting, check out Rufi Thorpe’s other novels, both of which I highly recommend: Dear Fang, With Love and The Knockout Queen.
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