I haven’t done very well with my goal of writing book reviews. I haven’t written one since I attempted to review Christopher Moore’s Sacré Bleu and Chris Bohjalian’s The Night Strangers in May.
It’s not that I haven’t read since May. Good Reads tells me I’ve read twelve novels and a biography since The Night Strangers.
I just like to experience rather than analyze the good books, like Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and John Irving’s In One Person.
And I have too much respect for authors to trash books I didn’t enjoy. So I didn’t like it. They still put a lot of effort into the writing and other people may have a different opinion. Who am I to say it sucked.
I do value the ability to think critically about the books I read, though, and still plan to write a review or two, here and there. Especially when I read a book and find myself unable to stop thinking about it.
That’s the case with Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman.
Girlchild is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, fifteen years old and living on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada in a development once called Calle de las Flores (Street of Flowers) but now referred to simply as Calle.
Calle is not a pretty place. It’s trailers, bars, welfare checks and no indoor plumbing.
Rory’s mother and her mother before her had their first child at fifteen and had several more after that. Rory’s half brothers are grown and don’t live in Calle. Her world is her mother and grandmother.
In the book we travel with Rory through her childhood, hanging out in a booth while her mother tends bar, school where standardized tests reveal how bright she really is in spite of her surroundings, the loss when her grandmother moves to California to get away from her gambling addiction.
Central to the book is a family history of molestation. Rory’s mother was abused by her father as a child and Rory herself falls victim to “The Hardware Man” before she catches a venereal disease in third grade and her mother figures out what is going on.
The story is a compilation of Rory’s first person narrative and excerpts from a Welfare Department file that Rory discovers after her mother is hit by a truck one night and killed soon after Rory’s fifteenth birthday.
Several of the more disturbing sections of the book are redacted, just big black lines though the text leaving only selected words visible.
Even though I first thought there was something wrong with my Nook, the redacted sections are somehow extremely powerful. I don’t know if we’re supposed to know who redacted them, but I imagine Rory decided she didn’t want to share her very worst memories and crossed them out.
One of the things that grounds Rory through all the trauma in her life is a copy of the Girl Scout Handbook. She doesn’t belong to a troop, but makes her own and reads the Handbook until she hasn’t it memorized.
The Girl Scouts provide an absurd counterpoint for the reader, illustrating how destitute Rory’s life is in comparison to the all American Girl Scout, how silly and yet important things like badges and oaths are to someone like Rory.
Girlchild is extremely well-written, the language is beautiful despite the bleak existence of the characters and the chapters are short, almost like poems instead of prose.
I can’t say that this is an enjoyable book. It didn’t make me smile or laugh. But it is an excellent and engrossing book, one that will stay with me a long time. I highly recommend it.