Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

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Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Tupelo Hassman has written something astounding, being humorous, deeply touching, and something that will hopefully help to change attitudes. Whatever our personal story, place in the world, dreams and hopes this novel encourages empathy whilst leaving a lingering tinge of shame that 'girlchildren' still exist invisibly, and not just in the U.S.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: August 2012
Publisher: Quercus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1780871042

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Rory Dawn Hendrix (RD for short) lives with her mother in the ironically named Calle de las Flores or Street of Flowers; a pretty name masking a less than idyllic setting. For Calle is a trailer park for those living a life sentence of poverty, the inhabitants being as upwardly mobile as their static, seedy homes. RD has half brothers but they live with their father, leaving RD to live alone with her mother and nearby grandmother, a father being a luxury that Rory Dawn has learnt to live without. Rory Dawn is also a Girl Scout and has a handbook to prove it but she's in a troop of one, alone with the ideals of an organisation that she only glimpses through disadvantage and in the same way that she glimpses the materialistic world beyond her means. However, her mother wants more for her than the teen pregnancies that seem to have become their family heirloom and there is hope as RD is highly intelligent; but can this be enough?

Tupelo Hassman is a writer who has contributed to publications like The Portland Review Literary Journal and she also finds time to curate multi-media city tours locally in California. This is her first novel and could well be the way in which her fame spreads further than her home state; yes, as novels go, this one is rather special.

The novel written in language that's beautiful, sometimes funny, always insightful and often heart-piercing is told by Rory Dawn Hendrix herself, the voice of the author being totally subsumed in this fictional character. Tupelo not only produces a story of revelations and realisations of a girl of the age and experience of RD (I can't elaborate – no spoilers!) but also covers the psychological quirks and logical child-like reasoning behind them.

I don't want to go too deeply into the characterisations as I'll give too much of the story away and you need to see it through RD's eyes, but everyone lurking between the covers of Girlchild is very real and, sadly, obviously formed through someone's true life recollections. RD is an innocent but also inoculated with a large dose of wisdom and understanding beyond those who haven’t been touched by similar disadvantages. Her mother desperately wants to do the right thing for the daughter she loves but is hampered by her own coping mechanisms and the confines placed on her by outside forces. Her mother also knows, as RD comes to realise, that the American dream is rationed according to income and authorities' actions and expectations. Then there's the Buck family, proof that even in the most impoverished communities there are always those who are worse off.

'Girlchild' isn't only her mother's pet name for RD but almost an indictment, labelling her subservient place in the society in which she lives, carrying with it the stigma and collective memories and pain of other 'girlchildren' who have gone and are still to come. RD clutches on to the Girl Scout handbook; this is not only her reference and connection to a world beyond hers but there are a couple of innovative chapters where it's amended to make it relevant to her own situation. Actually, to contradict myself, there are more than a couple of innovative chapters. Tupelo Hassman's presentational style is fascinating and similar in idea (though not subject or substance) to Dasa Drndic's Trieste in that the story is told as much by documents as it is by narrative. Peppered through RD's story are excerpts from social workers' and court reports demonstrating what the outside world sees and, sometimes, misconstrues. The chapters that speak the loudest, though, are three consisting of Rory Dawn's self-censoring. I've never seen silence transferred to paper before but now I know what it looks like.

This isn't a book to shy away from and the author has ensured that we don't. There are laughs along with the tears and, by the time you reach the end, Rory Dawn Hendrix and Tupelo Hassman are two people that you'll never forget.

I would like to thank Quercus for providing Bookbag with a copy of this book for review.

If you were touched and enthralled by this book, you may also feel the same way about Life! Death! Prizes! by Stephen May.

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Buy Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman at


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