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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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

The New York Times Susannah Meadows

A voice as fresh as hers is so rare that at times I caught myself cheering. . . .I'd go anywhere with this writer.
The Boston Globe

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.

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.
The New York Times Book Review Megan Mayhew Bergman

Moments of strange beauty enhance our sense of the Calle community….[Hassman] makes Rory's milieu feel universal.
San Francisco Chronicle

Powerful…Rory transcends her bleak situation through dark humor and unaccountable smarts.
author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake Aimee Bender

This amazing debut spills over with love, but is still absolutely unflinching and real.
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

Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt




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

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Girlchild: A Novel 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
different than anything else i've read recently, but i'm not sure i could or would recommend this book to others. girl growing up poor, fatherless, in a trailer park, misunderstood, abused, somewhat depressing overall author's writing is hard to follow at times glad i read it but also glad it's finished
savannahcook More than 1 year ago
I almost gave up on this book, then would read one more short chapter after the other until I got to the end and said, "Well, I'm glad I read that book." I work at a middle school, and this book helped to remind me that not all children have a loving mother and father at home helping them succeed in school and in life. This little girl raised herself, protected her mother from knowing that she was being molested, and evidently was brilliant in school. The book ends the only way it could - with her striking out on her own. Yes, it's hard to follow at times. Then again, the chapter with all the lines blacked out showing what it was like in the dark bathroom ... well, that was brilliant if you have an imagination. So, take your chances if what I've said intrigues you! For those who are interested in knowing more about students who are this age, I also recommend Alice Bliss.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. She nailed it - the people in Calle, the girl and her mother and her grandmother; the abuse and wanting to still belong to her mother, and having to figure out how to forgive the fact that she wasn't protected. How hard it was to leave, and how it all stays with you even when you do leave and move on and do better than where you came from . . . I knew this girl once and I knew those people. She totally nailed it.
Monie120 More than 1 year ago
This book has good moments but it really wasn't what I expected. Not something I'd recommend. I've read better books about traumatic childhood experiences.
Lilac_Wolf More than 1 year ago
The cover caught my eye. A trailer that looks like it would feel at home in my trailer park but set in the desserts of Nevada. I started reading and it knocked me over to read a story that followed my own childhood eerily close. It didn't hide how common child sexual abuse is, but it didn't go into painful detail either. I think it was the perfect balance on such a difficult topic for so many (too many) women. This story is not an easy read. It deals with those living in poverty for generations as their own counter-culture. I thought it was brilliant because so much of it range true. Especially how anyone from the government (including or and especially police) is not to be trusted. How very hard people work just to get by. During a time when the stereotype of the welfare abusers is running rampant, we see that is stupid because even with welfare, life is hard and lean. I thought this was such a sad read, and so well written I literally couldn't put it down. It's not going to be for everyone. The story is written almost like a diary, with the time-frame and memories jumping all over the place without a lot of hints about where you are currently at in Rory Dawn's life. But I absolutely loved it, the story was completely captivating.
HarrietteWilson More than 1 year ago
Beautiful novel that takes on difficult topics---multigenerational poverty and physical and sexual abuse---in a sensitive way. The author's stream of consciousness approach might not be for everyone, but for those who appreciate its lyricism this is an incredible read.
literatissima More than 1 year ago
Rory Dawn Hendrix is an under-privileged, imaginative young girl, growing up a the low-class trailer park known as "The Calle" (de Las Flores) outside Reno, NV. She is the mother of a teenage mother who is the daughter of a teenage mother as well. There is heartbreak and disappointment in this life, but Rory finds comfort in The Girl Scout Handbook, spelling words and using her imagination to escape. Beautifully written in brief digestible chapters, stream of consciousness and intercalary interludes lend a unique voice to the main character and her coming of age saga. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of modern lit, coming of age novels, serious dramatic themes and anyone who started out with a rough beginning in life.
Vick29 More than 1 year ago
Still trying to get through this book.....hate not to finish reading a book that I have paid good money for but it is hard. I guess I should keep my opinion to myself until I finally do finish it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hard to follow. Depressing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I felt that she assumed readers could follow her thoughts more easily than they could. Very depressing concepts and attitude.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tupelo Hassman is Shakespeare of the trailer park. Loved reading Girlchild.
KateUnger 8 months ago
I really liked the writing style in this book. It's broken down into small diary-like entries chronically Rory's life, although not entirely in order. Interspersed are reports from a social worker and entries that are more philosophical in nature or general observations about life in the Calle. Rory and her mother move from California to just outside Reno, NV when Rory is 4. Her four older brothers have moved away to find their father, and Rory and her mother go to live in a trailer park, known as the Calle, to be near her grandmother. Grandma Shirley had Jo when she was a teenager, Jo had her first child at 15, so Rory is the hope of the family. She is smart, and everyone is determined that she shouldn't mess up her life by getting pregnant. It reminded me of Me & Emma and A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, but it was also very unique in the style and voice. I was attracted to this book because of the inclusion of Girl Scouts in the description. And while there is a thread of references to the Girl Scout Handbook, it's not as big of a plot element as I was expecting. The book definitely centers more about Buck v. Bell in which "feebleminded" women are deemed worthy of infertility by the Supreme Court. This quick read is a collage of snippets of the tragic and unfortunate way of life of many poor people in America.
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RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is one of those books, that after reading other people's reviews, I was dying to read.  And luckily, this book fell into my hands after a library book sale (those are always the best, aren't they?). Girlchild is a book about Rory Dawn Hendrix, a girl who lives in the trailer park in Reno with her mother and near her grandmother.  Her life is not beautiful, not wonderful, not uplifting in any way at all. But Rory finds a connection with the Girl Scout Handbook, which is her bright shiny way out of the trailer park. Will Rory be able to break the cycle and not get pregnant young?  Will she be able to leave the trailer park and set up a new life for herself?  Or will she be just like her mother, stuck in the rut of the trailer park lifestyle forever? This is a tough book to read about.  There are issues like sexual abuse, drugs, and drinking.  But the sexual abuse is much less explicit (almost "hidden"), not like in the book Push. But similar to Push by Sapphire, Girlchild is a tough read that should be read.  It's a small window into a world that is foreign to most of us, but is REAL.  Don't shy away from it because it's tough: embrace it. What do you think about these kinds of tough reads? Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book
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GrammyReading More than 1 year ago
tupelo hassman can write...she can write very well...she can write so well i still have the taste of paper in my mouth from devouring this book..this girlchild...this chosen one to break the family curse....this all alone girl out in the desert of poverty had to make it matter what it took...ignorance, poverty, abuse, false promises, even death...and the girl scouts of america....lessons taught, observed and learned...rooted for her and cheered her on....this tupelo had a story to tell...and she told it well...thank you ms hassman
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love a book that can evoke emotion. Even if that emotion is a hard one. I like that she says so much without having to spell out all the gory details. Well done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was okay. Sad that humans treat one another this way!