Kara's Reviews > Girlchild

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
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Mar 18, 2012

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Read from March 18 to 21, 2012

True story: my first job out of college was working as a juvenile probation officer. One of my clients was 13 years old. She lived in a trailer park. She was molested by several of the men there. She had three older brothers. During the year that I knew her, her mother died, one of her brothers was also placed on probation, and another brother was assigned to a long-term stay at a regional youth detention center. When I visited her in her trailer, roaches -- of all sizes -- would climb my clothes and crawl into my purse. I do not know what became of this young lady. Her IQ was almost qualified her as mentally disabled. Her mother called me shortly before she died, crying because she had no money for Christmas gifts for her family.

I kept looking for this girl in girlchild -- which tells a very similar story, but I couldn't find her. The conditions and life the child I knew faced were horrifying, grimmer than anything I've ever experienced. Girlchild's collage-like writing style (a math problem here, a social worker's report there, excerpts from the Girl Scout handbook, some personal narrative, a letter) made for a very choppy read. (Note that I am someone who loves Ali Smith, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Kathryn Davis' Versailles -- all with similarly creative approaches.) Time and time again I found myself going back and rereading sentences and trying to figure out what happened.

But maybe that's the point. When you live in a trailer park, when you're molested, when your future often seems hopeless -- maybe your story is a patchworked jumble of disorganized thoughts and moments.

This was a very hard read, and it was definitely influenced by the personal bias I brought to the story. Hassman's portrayal of trailer park life is very accurate. Perhaps it's the glimmer of hope she offers that I had a harder problem reconciling personally.

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