- Angela Critics
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, a girl growing up on the Calle de las Flores, a trailer park on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. The Calle is a neighborhood where people live from government check to government check. It is a place where a mother must take the night and weekend shifts because the tips are better and they need the money to survive, even though there is no such thing as reliable child care. It is a world where a mother's determination to spare her daughter the abuse she suffered as a child isn't enough to give her the skills to identify the true risks to that girlchild.
Rory is repeatedly told that she is one of the Hendrix women, doomed to repeat her mother and grandmother's mistakes. In the midst of this grim existence, she clings to the Girl Scout Handbook as a way to learn about life, to learn about things that aren't taught on the Calle. The Girl Scout Handbook is a link to a normal life that is completely outside her experience, a touchstone to a world outside her dysfunctional family and neighborhood.
The book is written from Rory's point of view. Interspersed with her memories are excerpts from official reports by the social workers who interacted with her family. Rory conveys her world's deep suspicion of government agencies and their forced reliance on each other. It is that reliance on the support of neighbors that leads to Rory's abuse. As Rory relates her fears from these encounters, sections are blacked out, as if these experiences are too painful to remember. In this way Hassman conveys the trauma without explicitly describing the abuse.
Make no mistake, this is not a book about being a Girl Scout. It is a book about grinding poverty and class divisions in America. It is a grim book about nightmares no child should experience. Yet it is not a graphic book. Nor is it entirely without hope. Rory is smart and determined. She recovers from the abuse to return to a normal life, at least normal for The Calle. The reader is left with a sense that maybe, just maybe, she will break the cycle of despair. Girlchild is a book that will have an impact and will stay with you long after you turn the last page. It is a powerful book that is well worth reading.