Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book 19 - Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

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This is Tupelo Hassman's first work, and boy is it powerful. The story focuses on Rory Dawn (also affectionately known as R.D. - a nickname bestowed upon her by her maternal grandmother). It is told in bits and pieces, a novel that has some plot line but is mostly comprised of short stories that deal with the same characters. Rory lives in the Nevada desert (somewhere outside of Reno) with her mother, Jo, in a trailer. You learn shortly that R.D. has 4 older half brothers but doesn't know their father or her own father (at least she knows their father's name). Jo works as a bartender at the local truck stop and combats a nasty alcohol habit as well as a habit of picking up the wrong men. Her grandmother also has an addictive personality and cannot, for the life of her, stop gambling or smoking.

R.D. desperately wants to be a Girl Scout and takes out the Girl Scout Handbook from the library so often, that her name is the only name on the checkout slip. There are no troops in her poor town, so she has to live through the handbook and, essentially, creates a troop comprised of herself and her imaginary friend, Viv. They often compete for badges. There is also tales of abuse and neglect, interspersed with reports from a social worker, test questions and excerpts from the Girl Scout Handbook.

This is book that deals with judgment - mostly the judgement that people have toward people of lower economic classes and R.D.'s fear of it. It also deals poignantly with ideas of loneliness and belonging and independence, but is so depressing in dealing with these themes (but that could be because of what I do for work and my hope that I can use reading as an escape from this, so a book like this wasn't really an escape). This book is gritty and detailed in ways that are sometimes painful and often uncomfortable to read. I really enjoyed that Hassman wrote the book, mostly, in R.D.'s voice because I was able to get a connection to her - it was like she was talking to me about her life or writing me letters or I was reading her diary - so the mechanism for telling the story was powerful and effective. I liked how Hassman had some confidence that we could connect the dots and imagine the horror of R.D.'s existence. And R.D. is a FANTASTIC character.

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