The Torn Skirt: A Novel

The Torn Skirt: A Novel

by Rebecca Godfrey
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The Torn Skirt: A Novel by Rebecca Godfrey

At Mt. Douglas (a.k.a. Mt. Drug) High, all the girls have feathered hair, and the sweet scent of Love's Baby Soft can't hide the musk of raw teenage anger, apathy, and desire. Sara Shaw is a girl full of fever and longing, a girl looking for something risky, something real. Her only possible salvation comes in the willowy form of the mysterious Justine, the outlaw girl in the torn skirt. The search for Justine will lead Sara on a daring odyssey into an underworld of hookers and johns, junkies and thieves, runaway girls and skater boys, and, ultimately, into a violent tragedy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061567100
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/12/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 691,547
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: HL670L (what's this?)
Age Range: 16 - 18 Years

About the Author

Rebecca Godfrey is an award-winning novelist and journalist. Her first novel, The Torn Skirt, was a national bestseller and a finalist for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Her second book, Under The Bridge, an investigation into the Reena Virk case, was a Globe and MailBook of the Year, and received the B.C. Award for Canadian Nonfictionand The Arthur Ellis Award for Nonfiction. Born in Toronto, and raisedin Victoria, she currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Read an Excerpt

The Torn Skirt Chapter One

Blame it on the Pleasure Family. Blame it on the Vietnam War. Blame it on a lot of things. But don't blame it on Justine. She was just a weak, scared girl; a lost, violent girl. A lot of things, she was. Was.

Or don't blame it on anything. Call it inevitable, call it the doomed fate of love. Call it karmic, fucked up, the dance of the wolves. Live it, love it, call it life. Call it Led Zeppelin. Yeah, yeah. Really, I don't really, really don't fucking care.

I was born with a fever, but it seemed to subside for sixteen years. High school, I was a good girl. I was pretty, I smiled, I fit in fine. And then as I turned sixteen and stopped smiling, the fever returned, though my skin stayed pale and sure, showing no sign of the heat inside me. 102 degrees, it returned for no reason. It returned around the time I met Justine, but blame it on her bad influence and you'd be all wrong.

I come out into the kitchen, have my little chat with the cop. Unsmiling, I get to him. I'm sure of it. All the teen girls on this hick island have flipped-back Farrah Fawcett hair, willing-to-please eyes shadowed in baby blue. Me, in my little shredded dress and desecrated eyes. I don't shock him, but I'm not what he hoped for. He writes something in his pad.

Teenage Girl. Angst-Ridden. Badly Dyed Hair.

The cop, thirty or so, with a mustache and the dullest eyes, doesn't ask about Justine. He asks what time I expect my mother back.

"Is that relevant to the case?"

"Relevant? That's a big word for a little girl."

Suddenly, I'm nauseous. I'm reeling. I'm realizing all the things I don't have words for. The worldfor him a pad of dates, names, serial numbers, license plates. He'd need a soundtrack for his report, a rush of images: her legs alone, her legs kicking backwards, the slit of her skirt ripping as she ran, her legs like wishbones.

Some more notes in his pad now; I imagine them.

Single-Parent Family. Headed by Father. That Crazy Diehard Hippie.

And get this: the cop is checking me out. I thought the sight of me might disgust him, but I should have known. just because I'm soft-skinned and sixteen, they get this sick, weak look. Speed kicking in, not making me mellow, lazy, hazy, and high. Making me violent and blue, restless and aware of all the things I've got to do. All the things I've got to do.

"Touch my forehead," I tell him.

He does this, with little hesitation.

"You're hot."

"Yeah, I seem to be coming down with a bit of a fever."

"Maybe you should lie down and we can talk in your room."

"This whole thing has been very disturbing for me."

"I'm sure it has been," he says. "Disturbing, that's a good word."

He stands up. Moves toward me.

"I have a fever," I tell him. "You'd better stay away."

I head for my bedroom, and hear him walking away past the marijuana plants that line my father's shelves.

He's left my house and gone to jerk off, I bet. Jerk off in the front seat of his cruiser. I'm in my bedroom and he's imagining me here. A little girlyworld of Maybelline and heartthrobs Scotch-taped above pink pillows. Really, it's a bare room of white walls and Justine's books and skirts scattered all over the floor.

I try to sleep, but sleep's not easy when you're on speed. I guess the cop never left because now he's knocking on my door. I ask him to leave; I tell him I'm too hot to talk. Fuck. He says we must, but I won't. Just laughing at the thought of him banging down the bedroom door of a teenage girl. He imagines it pink and soft. He has no idea.

In The Bushes With The Burnout Boys

I guess all this shit started when I was in the bush. I loved the bush. Behind our school, it was like some tangled, rising creature, hands reaching skyward; a thousand savage, skinny fingers. Evergreens and Scotch pines twisting with blackberry bushes and dead oaks. Mornings before school, I used to head into it with my stupid Swiss Army knife. Hack and chop a path leading into a clearing. And at lunch hour, I'd bring the burnout boys in.

I'm not making this up: the burnout boys all had one-syllable names: Bryce, Bruce, Dean, and Dale. They were only a bit wayward, but they thought they were real rebels. Bragging as they brought out their plastic baggies of mushrooms and weed.

May: the bush was rainsoaked; we were whacked around as we went in. I lifted branches back, holding them so the burnouts could enter. We sat on the ground, in a dry place, hidden from the concrete slab of our school. Here, the mountains faded from view. The blue sky went white.

It began to rain again, the pale, common May rain. I sat down on the dirt, lay back with my hair on a broad, mossy rock. The air smelled great at this moment -- it smelled like rot and rain and Christmas.

Bryce drove his red pickup truck to the bush and opened the front door. Twelve o'clock: the Power Hour. Burnouts loved the Power Hour. Heaven. For them. They know every word. They sang along, pretending guitars were in their hands. They sang the Lemon Song to me.

Squeeze me baby so the juice runs down my leg.

My father used to say his generation fucked up in a lot of ways, but at least they invented rock and roll...

The Torn Skirt. Copyright © by Rebecca Godfrey. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide

I was born with a fever, but it seemed to subside for sixteen years.... And then as I turned sixteen and stopped smiling, the fever returned though my skin stayed pale and sure, showing no sign of the heat inside me.

Two weeks can change a person's life forever, especially in the case of 16-year-old Sara. Born with a mysterious fever, Sara's life has never matched her picturesque hometown of Victoria, BC's postcard-perfect reputation.

Deserted long ago by her rebellious heiress mother, Sara has somehow managed to piece together a life with her sensitive, pot-smoking father. Unable to cope with his teenage daughter's coming of age, Seamus drives off into the woods, abandoning Sara to fend for herself. Desperate for guidance, for a role model, for a little bit of excitement, Sara has a fleeting encounter with a mysterious girl -- Justine, a teenage runaway in the torn skirt -- who holds for Sara the promise of beauty, connection, danger. Her search for Justine -- which is, in essence, her search for herself -- takes her into the dark, but tempting underbelly of violence, drugs, prostitution, and even murder. The Torn Skirt leaves you hoping and aching for a sign that this unusually perceptive young woman will emerge unscathed, all the way to the final page.

The precision, clarity, lyricism (and wit) of Rebecca Godfrey's prose have created, in Sara, a piercing and unforgettable heroine -- and gives voice to the profound and universal experience of teenage isolation.

Discussion Questions
  • Sara's fever suddenly appears after lying dormant for 10 years. What factorsseem to trigger the onset of her fever? What does the fever represent? Did you feel the fever was psychosomatic or real? Is her fever a "symptom" or a "disease"?

  • Sixteen is a particularly soul-searching age for teenage girls, and Sara's search for Justine is, in essence, a search for herself. Why does Sara find Justine so fascinating as opposed to the other "Farah Fawcett-haired" island girls in her high school?

  • The girls Sara befriends and finds the most intriguing are all similar in that they are also desperate to leave their little isolated island. Alice (aka: China, Tahiti, and Bali), the teenage prostitute with an aptitude for drawing maps from memory, longs to escape to Penticton. Justine's dream is to travel to Greece to find her father. And Ivy Mercer, whom Sara wishes had been her friend, is off to college in New England. What are all the girls running from, and what are they really hoping to find in their travels?

  • In the end, Sara turns into Justine and in many ways emulates her -- a teenage runaway wanted by the law, all the way down to the final image of Sara running down the road in her torn skirt. Did you feel this is the life Sara really hoped to find? Did the ending suggest to you that Justine may have been just as innocent as Sara at one time, before becoming hardened by life on the streets?

  • When Sara discovers that Heather had been gang raped by the stoner boys, Sara feels somehow responsible. When Heather is then institutionalized, Sara shows up at the Ledger Hotel to visit her, as if they were close friends. What prompts Sara's sudden obsession with Heather's misfortunes?

  • The color red plays a significant role in the book: Sara's red hair; the forbidden Red Zone; and The Red Room at White Oak. Red usually represents "stop" or "danger." What does it symbolize in The Torn Skirt?

  • When Sara decides she will become a nurse, she sets out to teach herself everything there is to know about nursing, and even dresses in a nurse's uniform. The more Sara is drawn deeper into trouble, the more delusional she becomes about being a nurse. Is Sara really looking to heal others, or is she looking to heal herself? Or is she clinging so tenaciously to becoming a nurse because it's her last hope for living a normal life?

  • Sara was abandoned by her mother… and then her father. Justine lost her father, and her mother is never mentioned. China wonders if her mother is still alive. "Teenage runaway" seems like a misnomer once you realize that the girls didn't choose to become separated from their families. How do China, Justine, Sara, and the other street girls forge their own family?

  • Sara states her personal dislike for drug use early on in the book. However, after one day in the Forbidden Zone, she's suddenly doing drugs. Is Sara's reckless drug abuse similar to the self-mutilation act of Cassie and Amber carving FTW into their own flesh with a razor blade?

  • Seamus feels too much and Sara, the "Ice Queen," seems to feel too little. Does Sara intentionally set out to protect herself from the feelings that destroyed her father? How successful is she in suppressing her emotions?

  • Love's Baby Soft is such a young girl's perfume. Heavy metal music is also typically associated with younger audiences. In what other ways does the author depict the immaturity of the characters, using images often in conflict with their mature situations? About the Author: Rebecca Godfrey was born in Canada but lives in New York City. She has written for Detour, Index, and other magazines. She holds an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence. This is her first novel.

  • Customer Reviews

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    Torn Skirt 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I read this book in two days and loved it. I felt like I was living her life for a while. It really teaches you something and sticks in your mind.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    One of the all time best books I've read. Infact I am reading for the second time I enjoyed it so much. I'd recommened it to everyone! All my friends want to read it so bad and won't stop bugging me to borrow it.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    it has such an edge to it. and its so different. &i love how her style of writing is. you may not like it, especially if youre not a teen, but i loved it. i do gotta add a warning though, sometimes the author changes to a whole different subject, that doesnt even have to do anything. but trust trust, this is worth reading. rebecca godfrey is amazing.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    ...i completely loved the book...her apathy, hanging out with the boys...people thinking i'm a mute because i don't bother wasting my breath on idiots...being called a slut when i'm still a virgin...being on my own...finally a book thats isn't all about blaming others (parents, friends, teachers)...our life is what WE make of it...
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    omg...this book was the best!! it had a really great twist to it, too! great for all the girls that wonder what really goes on in those girl's life that live on streets. a great book to read over and over!!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is one of the best books i've read. I felt like I knew Sara. I laughed, I cried. All in all I loved this book. It was a quick read and it makes you think. It was also pretty easy to understand.
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    POTC More than 1 year ago
    The torn skirt is a very touching novel, I was glued to this book all day, I highly reccomed if you like good novels that have writing that make you feel like your in the book, this was written very well.
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    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book it's like your on the school bus on you're way home and you meet this girl she's a total stranger and she's sitting next to you on the bus and suddenly she starts telling you these stories about her journey to finding this girl and its amazing the way it feels like you just got in the car with her or like you hopped on the roller coaster and you're on for the ride.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book 'The Torn Skirt' was an okay book. I understood most of the story but some parts are confusing like it would jump to a different subject just like that. Overall, I liked it. It had an edge to it that made it such a great book
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I really enjoyed reading this book. This was a very realistic book of things that do go on, even if some people don't realize it. The majority of books with the same type of subject that I have read didn't really grab my attention so much. This was a very good book and it was very easy to follow along and understand. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this subject, because it doesn't make you want to be involved in this type of scene like some books do.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book is amazing... Rebecca Godfrey perfectly captured the feel of a troubled teenager... I would definately recommend this book to friends. Actually, I already have.