Girlchild: A Novel

Girlchild: A Novel

3.6 41
by Tupelo Hassman
     
 

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A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Rory Hendrix, the least likely of Girl Scouts, hasn't got a troop or a badge to call her own. But she still borrows the Handbook from the elementary school library to pore over its advice, looking for tips to get off the Calle—the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, the

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Overview

A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

Rory Hendrix, the least likely of Girl Scouts, hasn't got a troop or a badge to call her own. But she still borrows the Handbook from the elementary school library to pore over its advice, looking for tips to get off the Calle—the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, the sweet-faced, hard-luck bartender at the Truck Stop.

Rory's been told she is one of the "third-generation bastards surely on the road to whoredom," and she's determined to break the cycle. As Rory struggles with her mother's habit of trusting the wrong men, and the mixed blessing of being too smart for her own good, she finds refuge in books and language. From diary entries, social workers' reports, story problems, arrest records, family lore, and her grandmother's letters, Tupelo Hassman's Girlchild crafts a devastating collage that shows us Rory's world while she searches for the way out of it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A voice as fresh as hers is so rare that at times I caught myself cheering. . . .I'd go anywhere with this writer.” —Susannah Meadows, The New York Times

“So fresh, original, and funny you'll be in awe… Tupelo Hassman has created a character you'll never forget. Rory Dawn Hendrix of the Calle has as precocious and endearing a voice as Holden Caulfield of Central Park.” —The Boston Globe

“A lyrical and fiercely accomplished first novel...In Hassman's skilled hands, what could have been an unrelenting chronicle of desolation becomes a lovely tribute to the soaring, defiant spirit of a survivor.” —People

“Moments of strange beauty enhance our sense of the Calle community….[Hassman] makes Rory's milieu feel universal.” —Megan Mayhew Bergman, The New York Times Book Review

“Powerful…Rory transcends her bleak situation through dark humor and unaccountable smarts.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“This amazing debut spills over with love, but is still absolutely unflinching and real.” —Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Publishers Weekly
Blighted opportunity and bad choices revisit three generations of women in a Reno, Nev., trailer park in these affecting dispatches by debut novelist Hassman. Narrator Rory Dawn Hendrix, “R.D.,” is growing up in the late ’60s on the dusty calle, where families scrape by on low-paying jobs and government assistance, everything is broken down, violence barely suppressed, babysitting shared, and “uncle” is more often than not a euphemism for child molester. “Smokey, Barney, Johnny Law, Pig, uncles with their badges, with their belt buckles, say, ‘Hey Sugar, Toots, Sweet Thing, is your mama home?’ hand already through the already ripped screen door, finger on the latch.” Teenage pregnancies dogged both R.D.’s capricious mother, Jo, a waitress with four grown sons, and grandmother Shirley Rose, an inveterate gambler employed at the keno ticket counter who couldn’t keep R.D.’s grandfather from sexually abusing R.D. and her sisters, and told R.D. to “keep her legs closed if she wanted to keep her future open.” As bad as it is, there’s some hope that this girl, with her early aptitude at spelling, will escape the stigma of being “feebleminded.” Poring over a secondhand copy of The Girl Scout Handbook, with its how-to emphasis on honor and duty, comforts R.D., especially when babysat by Carol, a brutalized neighbor girl, who leaves R.D. alone with her predatory father, “the Hardware Man.” Hassman’s characters are hounded by a relentless, recurring poverty and ignorance, and by shame, so that the sins of the mothers keep repeating, and suicide is often the only way out. Despite a few jarring moments of moralizing, this debut possesses powerful writing and unflinching clarity. Agent: Bill Clegg, WME Entertainment. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
Bright young girl must endure family dysfunction and sexual abuse while coming of age in a Reno trailer park during the late 1980s. Life in the Calle de Las Flores trailer park, as Rory Dawn Hendrix tells it, comes with its own unique rituals and social mores. People live paycheck-to-paycheck, cops and child-protective services are the natural enemies and getting away from the Calle is "an act of will akin to suicide, in force and determination." An excellent student whose off-the-charts test scores amaze and confound her teachers, Rory nonetheless feels she is of "feebleminded" stock. Her hard-drinking mother Johanna tends bar at the Truck Stop, relying on her lissome figure to eke out tips. Bearing four sons before she was 21 years old (and losing all her teeth by the time she was 25), Johanna has more than her fair share of demons. Her four grown sons chose to live with their father over her, and she seems ill equipped to take care of herself, let alone another person. Like Johanna, Rory's grandma Shirley Rose has an ugly history with men, and an addiction of her own. She prefers the slots, and looks after Rory while her mom works. When she finally moves from the Calle, Johanna entrusts Rory to a sullen teenage neighbor, Carol. It turns out that Carol's father, popularly known as the Hardware Man, has been molesting Carol, and preys upon Rory as well. And when he in turn moves away, taking that secret with him, it is left to Rory to rebuild her shattered self-esteem. Taking inspiration from a battered library copy of The Girl Scout Handbook, Rory does a remarkable job raising herself, while trying to let go of the people (and hurts) that no longer serve her. With a compelling (if harrowing) story and a wise-child narrator, Hassman's debut gives voice—and soul—to a world so often reduced to cliché. A darkly funny and frequently heartbreaking portrait of life as one of America's have-nots.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781250024060
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
02/05/2013
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
301,563
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

girlchild

 

teeth

Mama always hid her mouth when she laughed. Even when she spoke too gleefully, mouth stretched too wide by those happy muscles, teeth too visible. I can still recognize someone from my neighborhood by their teeth. Or lack of them. And whenever I do, I call these people family. I know immediately that I can trust them with my dog but not with the car keys and not to remember what time, exactly, they're coming back for their kids. I know if we get into a fight and Johnny shows up we'll agree that there has been "No problem, Officer, we'll keep it down."

 

I know what they hide when they hide those teeth. By the time Mama was fifteen she had three left that weren't already black or getting there, and jagged. She had a long time to learn how to cover that smile. No matter how she looked otherwise, tall and long-legged, long brown hair, pale skin that held its flush, it was this something vulnerable about the mouth and eyes too that kept men coming back to her. The men would likely say this was due to her willingness to welcome them back, and Mama may have been an easy lay, but I'm cool with that because any easy lay will tell you, making it look easy is a lot of work. Still, no matter how fine she looked, especially after she got herself a set of fine white dentures for her twenty-fifth birthday, Mama never forgot how ugly she felt with those snaggly teeth. In her head, she never stopped being a rotten-mouthed girl.

 

It's the same with being feebleminded. No matter how smart you might appear to be later with your set of diplomas on their fine white parchment, the mistakes you made before the real lessons sunk in never fade. No matter how high you hang those documents with their official seals and signatures, how shining and polished the frame, your reflection in the glass will never let you forget how stupid you felt when you didn't know any better. You never stop seeing those gaps in your smile.

 

 

Copyright © 2012 by Tupelo Hassman

All rights reserved

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Meet the Author

Tupelo Hassman graduated from Columbia's MFA program. Her writing has been published in the Portland Review Literary Journal, Paper Street Press, Tantalum, We Still Like, and Zyzzyva, and by 100 Word Story, Five Chapters.com, and Invisible City Audio Tours.

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