Girlchild sparks a raw memory

Cover image from Goodreads

*Please note that this review contains some profanity, all contained within quotes from the book.

Raw.

To love Girlchild as much as I did, you have to be willing to understand “raw.” Several times while I was reading this book, my husband looked at my face and asked me what was wrong. (I was alternating between tears brimming over and horror leaving my mouth agape.)

Rory Dawn suffers neglect, mistreatment and abuse at the hands of those trusted to care for her. Growing up in a Nevada trailer park outside Reno, Rory clings to her tattered copy of the Girl Scouts Handbook as the only set of rules that use “honor” and “obey” as positive edicts. She makes her own badges and creates her own troop.

Tupelo Hassman does not shy away from the anger, bitterness or shame that go with the broken down territory.

You’ve done a thing you can’t clean up, found a place you can’t reach with mop or apology. The forever you’ve created branches like the hairline fracture in a pelvic bone, hides like a dirty Polaroid stored under a mattress, rises like hot blood to burn cheeks pretty with shame. Places you didn’t even know you were signing your name will always be marked by your hand, but despite every new day’s resolution to never do it again, you will. You’ll look away from your own face in the mirror, pull the chain twice to hide from yourself in the dark, and when it’s all over you won’t say anything. You won’t fucking say anything to anyone ever.”

So, if you can’t read books about children being hurt, you will miss out on a truly remarkable debut novel. Rory Dawn, despite being “third generation in a line of apparent imbeciles, feeble-minded bastards surely on the road to whoredom,” inspired me. Her desire to embrace life, to live fully and to strive for more, may seem shocking given her circumstances; but that is the brilliance of Hassman’s writing. Instead of just feeling sorry for Rory Dawn, I marveled at her.

As if knowing how hard it would be for readers to stick with dark material, Hassman tells the story in very short chapters, some less than a page.  She literally blacks out line after line to make us understand that Rory Dawn refuses to remember certain parts.

In the fairy tales there’s only one Big Bad Wolf and the little girl takes only one trip through the Dark Forest…But life on the Calle is real, not make-believe…So be prepared. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

In unveiling the whole truth this way, Hassman kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

This book took me immediately back to Rebecca Gilman’s play, The Glory of Living. I was fortunate enough to be the Assistant Director for the world premiere production and remember well the pressure on the lead actress (my dear friend Deborah Puette) to be “raw.”

In live theater there was no room to let the audience off the hook. The horror and evil and shame had to be palpable. But even more importantly, each character’s humanity and hope had to shine through at key moments.

Tupelo Hassman has achieved this same balance of horror and hope.

I haven’t found a mirror yet that doesn’t reflect the curves of the Calle back at me, my dirty ways, my fragile teeth and bad skin, my hands that won’t stop picking at themselves.”

She has turned her talented skills on stories that many Americans would hope to keep hidden. She has done it beautifully.

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11 thoughts on “Girlchild sparks a raw memory

  1. By the second paragraph of your review I was thinking about The Glory of Living and I was so glad you referenced it here! I think it is rare when a writer can walk that line between making human tragedy more compelling that revolting.

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    • Beautiful and harrowing are excellent words. You have quite literally “done” this, but like The Glory of Living, the writing here is just pitch perfect. Thanks for the comment my friend.

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