Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

Girlchild: A NovelGirlchild: A Novel by Tupelo Hassman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rory Dawn Hendrix is a trailer park girl—raised in the Calle del las Flores, a cluster of mobile homes on a plot of dust outside Reno, Nevada. Her mother calls her girlchild. And the novel is written as a series of mini-chapters, word problems, social workers’ reports, newspaper clippings, and more. These snippets introduce readers to a sad, hopeless, dirty world, but the only world Rory Dawn knows. And even though it’s sad and hopeless and dirty, Tupelo Hassman turns it into something beautiful by the mere talent of her writing.
Rory’s mother and grandmother both had their children when they were teenagers. They’re high school dropouts, welfare moms, alcoholics, gamblers, smokers. And all of the women in Rory’s family were, for a time, residents of the Calle where violence and sexual abuse are normal. Rory is surrounded by all of the disadvantages of Calle life, but her grandmother, Shirley Rose, has high hopes that Rory will be the one Hendrix female to get out. She says in a letter to Rory, “Someone’s got to make it and it has to be you.”
Rory is a smart girl, but being a gifted speller and star student doesn’t protect her from the harsh reality of life on the Calle where she is sexually assaulted by the “Hardware Man” in the bathroom of his shop while her mother works the night shift or wanders drunk from bar to bar. Rory finds some solace in the pages of the Girl Scout Handbook she repeatedly checks out from the library. The handbook contains words like honor, duty and try. According to Rory, “nothing else makes promises like that around here, promises with these words burning inside them…”
Girlchild is harrowing, but Tupelo’s ability to present the ugly beautifully softens the blow a bit and makes the unbearable, bearable. We see the world through Rory’s eyes, but in her childlike nature, the darkest elements are kept secret (i.e. blackening out the portions of the novel that take place in the Hardware Man’s bathroom). In this way, Tupelo allows her readers to use their own imagination about what takes place there, making it easier to digest the hideousness of it.
However readers interpret the novel, the underlying theme is that blood is thick, and no matter how badly someone might want to escape his/her world, the bond of family is often too strong to walk away from, even when the members of that family are often the ones who let you down.
Tupelo’s gift of descriptive language is mesmerizing for any writer, and I found her choice of writing Girlchild in vignettes admirable. Although the plot seemed a bit weak, this was offset by Tupelo’s natural voice, and I loved Rory as much as any character. I wanted to see her break free, and I cheered for her. As a writer, I hope I am able to do the same with my characters.



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2 Responses to Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

  1. I just wrote a review of your novel, I Am Lucky Bird. When I was getting your information for my entry, I saw this review. I really enjoyed it too, I kind of stumbled upon it at my library. :)

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