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The Girl in the Road

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Stunningly original and wildly inventive, The Girl in the Road melds the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern for a dazzling debut.

Meena, a young woman living in a futuristic Mumbai, wakes up with five snake bites on her chest. She doesn't know how or why, but she must flee India and return to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. Having long heard about The Trail -- an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea -- she embarks on foot on this forbidden bridge, with its own subculture and rules. What awaits her in Ethiopia is unclear; she's hoping the journey will illuminate it for her.

Mariama, a girl from a different time, is on a quest of her own. After witnessing her mother's rape, she joins up with a caravan of strangers heading across Saharan Africa. She meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. Yemaya tells Mariama of Ethiopia, where revolution is brewing and life will be better. Mariama hopes against hope that it offers much more than Yemaya ever promised.

As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama's fates will entwine in ways that are profoundly moving and shocking to the core. Vividly imagined and artfully told, written with stunning clarity and deep emotion, The Girl in the Road is a true tour de force.

323 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2014

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About the author

Monica Byrne

20 books402 followers
Monica Byrne is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. You can support her work at patreon.com/monicabyrne.


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5 stars
575 (17%)
4 stars
1,151 (35%)
3 stars
924 (28%)
2 stars
416 (12%)
1 star
172 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 721 reviews
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
August 24, 2014
Set in the not-too-distant future, The Girl in the Road focuses on the brutal journey of two women fleeing from violence in patriarchal cultures: Meena, a young woman from India, and Mariama, a girl enslaved in Africa. Told in alternating first person narratives, their stories converge by the end in not entirely surprising ways due to the symbolic overlap we see in each of their tales. Both have been attacked by snakes, both show signs of mental illness, both have suffered tremendous loss, both encounter words and images that have a spiritual significance to them alone, both are journeying toward a future they hope will be better.

In Mariama's story, she flees her home after finding a light blue snake in her bed. Heeding her mother's advice, she decides to flee and becomes a stowaway in a caravan transporting oil to Ethiopia. During this time, a beautiful woman named Yemaya joins the caravan and Mariama adopts her in her mind as a mother/lover/goddess figure. Born into a life of poverty and subservience, and bearing witness to her mother's repeated rape by their owner, Mariama is a surprisingly driven, courageous character, but her childlike naivete and bluntly sexualized view of the world are a dangerous combination in one so young.

In Meena's story, she awakens to find that a snake placed in her bed has bitten her; she immediately assumes someone is trying to kill her and flees India for Ethiopia, the place where her Indian parents were brutally murdered before her birth. She undertakes the dangerous journey across "The Trail," a bridge consisting of "scales" that runs from India to Djibouti. The bridge is intended to harvest wave energy and to cross it is an illegal, dangerous act. As Meena's trek goes on, she begins shedding that which is inessential and facing the truth from which her traumatized mind has been shielding her.

There is a lot to like about The Girl in the Road. The futuristic setting is at once recognizable and alien, but doesn't overshadow what is essentially an emotional and spiritual story about violence and healing. The world of Meena (which is set a few decades after the story of Mariama) is a racial, cultural, and sexual melting pot, and reading a book with characters from diverse backgrounds was a pleasure. Byrne's prose is lovely and minimalist, and her inclusion of Indian and Ethiopian cultures is seamless.

However, there was a lot that I did not enjoy. First off, the persistent phallic imagery, both the snakes in the bed and The Trail itself, is fraught with psychological and symbolic implications that had me expecting the big reveals in the end. I'm not a prude faulting an author's use of phallic imagery; rather, my complaint is that it lessened the suspense toward the novel's end because it seemed a little heavy handed. I was also disappointed that, in a novel that initially challenged the stereotypical view of transsexuals, it ultimately bolsters that stereotype.

And then there was THE SCENE, a scene that has apparently generated a lot of debate. The scene involves . And, yup, I am going to be a prude about that, mainly for the way it was presented as some sort of transcendental experience . This was a relatively brief scene and not overtly graphic, but enough to make me uncomfortable.

I do want to make it clear that this scene is not responsible for my 2 star review. The disappointment I feel stems from the book blurbs leading me to believe that this is a sci-fi action/thriller. This is certainly a very different reading experience than the one I thought I signed up for. In addition to my misguided expectations, this is a novel of unlikable characters that engendered my sympathy, but not my empathy.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder and at Shelf Inflicted
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
October 28, 2015
As William Gibson famously said, "The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." In 'The Girl in the Road,' Monica Byrne gives us a near-future in those parts of the world which have still not received their fair share of the 'distribution.'

An enormous structure which generates power from wave energy has been built, stretching across the Arabian Sea from India to Africa. This feat of technology has been hyped by its creators as a power source - but to some, especially those who may not benefit from the generated energy or the associated revenue, the project's most significant feature is the possibility of a 'land bridge': a way to escape, undocumented, from one country to another. For this reason, people insist on calling it 'The Trail.'

In one half of this story, we meet a woman who is drawn to the Trail for just this reason. Meena is an educated, seemingly privileged woman of Mumbai. However, she's clearly experiencing severe emotional trauma regarding an event involving her lover, Mohini, the details of which she is hiding from us. And it seems likely that on top of that trauma, she may be a disturbed individual to begin with.

The other half of the story follows Mariama, a young girl in Mauritania who is on her own after escaping slavery with her mother. Attaching herself to two men she randomly meets, by stowing away on their transport convoy; she hopes to make it across the continent to Ethiopia and the hope of a better life. When another girl, the young woman Yemaya, joins the convoy, Mariama latches onto her with passionate hero-worship.

Of course, the stories of Meena and Mariama will eventually meet, and it will be revealed how they are interconnected. Along the way, Byrne creates a gritty and vivid world, both believable and hallucinatory. The book relies very heavily on symbolism, and is involved with the inner states of both of our (very unreliable) narrators. At times, I found myself wishing it would concentrate just a bit more on the science-fiction elements of the book, because I found some of the ideas incredibly interesting and deserving of more exploration into how the described changes have affected society. However, then the book - which has set up our characters and situation as what seems to be a fairly standard, though original, future-adventure with two fairly sympathetic protagonists - left-turns into darkness.

Revealing more would be spoilers, but let's just say that it borders on horror territory, and is not at all a comfortable or easy read. The reader's sympathies don't quite end up where you might expect. And for me, that's what pushed the book up into 5-star territory.

My one complaint? The epilogue. It ends with an ambiguous meeting of two characters, whose identities are not fully revealed in the text. However, the way it's written, the reader feels like they ought to be able to figure out who they are. I had to go to an interview with the author to get the answer... I didn't find that last scene to be necessary.

Overall, though, I was still extremely impressed with the book, and I look forward to seeing what this new author does next.
Profile Image for Daniel.
90 reviews15 followers
April 20, 2014
Here's a bit of a summary of how my reading experience went (percentages are approximate):
0% - excited to read a SF story set in a non-western setting

20% - not quite following it and not quite caring. Bored and thinking about giving it up.

40% - totally lost in all the jumps in time and between women who have a tendency to change their name. I'm never really sure if I'm reading about the same woman from an earlier time or if it's a completely different person. Still thinking of giving it up.

50% - OK, I've got a line on where this is going and now I'm interested.

75% - Nope, I was wrong in my previous line of thinking. But, now I know where it's going.

80% - Nope, wrong again.

95% - PSYCHO!!

96% - Her, too? PSYCHO!!

97% - Oh, I see

99% - And there goes Djibouti.

This was only SF in the sense that it happens 50 or so years in the future and there is a technology employed on a scale that doesn't currently exist. A lot of the technology exists today, I think. The author just describes it being more refined and deployed differently.

I appreciate the things that this book didn't do. It didn't give much focus on the technology. It wasn't cynical about corporation or involve shadowy government agencies, which is really en vogue now. It was cynical in other ways that I think are entirely justified.

In the end, it's a dirty, twisty story about fear and anger and a journey to cleanse that. It didn't grab me from the start, but it was worth sticking with.

Profile Image for TheBookSmugglers.
669 reviews1,984 followers
Read
April 27, 2015
Trigger warning: rape; child abuse.
Spoiler warning.

My experience reading The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne can be boiled down to: this was an amazing novel until it wasn’t anymore. I am deeply conflicted about it.

+++

Somewhen in the near-future, Meena, a young woman wakes up in Mumbai with five snake bites on her chest. Not knowing what caused it or why, she goes on the run. Leaving everything behind, including her lover Mohini, Meena attempts a desperate feat: the crossing of The Trail – an energy-harvesting, moveable bridge that connects India to Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, she hopes to find succour and some answers about the murder of her blood parents. Who killed them, why and can she still find the woman who did it?

Somewhen in the near-past (within the story), a parallel story unfolds as Mariama, a young girl from West Africa flees a life of slavery. Joining a caravan on its way to Ethiopia, Mariama becomes entangled with her hosts and Yemaya, a mysterious young woman who joins them.

Both women tell their stories to those who are not there: at least not exactly.

The girl in the road is Meena. The girl in the road is Mariama. The girl in the road is Yemaya. The girl in the road is Mohini. The girl in the road wears a sari and haunts them all.

+++

What made The Girl in the Road feel amazing in the first place?

The imagined near-future that it neither dystopic nor post-apocalyptic but rather a vibrant fusion of advanced technology, sexual and gender openness and of post-racial diversity. The story’s details of those are less on the detailed side and more on lived experience of these women, especially Meena. India is now a superpower attempting to colonise – and mostly failing at it – African countries. The Trail itself is an amazing feat of technology and wonder.

From a bare bones perspective, two aspects of the novel worked as catnip for me, as a reader: Meena’s journey across The Trail is a cool survival story, a quest and a journey of self-realisation. The difficulties she encounters are thrilling and agonising. The loneliness and the acute sense of isolation leap from the pages.

The unreliability of its narrators though, is what clinched it for me in the beginning. From the get go, it is clear that these are splintered narratives told by fractured, broken women. Meena many times voices that she is in the middle of a manic episode: what triggered it is part of the mystery behind her narration. Mariama doesn’t need to tell us that she is not stable: it is clear that the trauma of slavery (and of something else that happened to her mother which we don’t until late into the novel) linger in profound ways because even though Mariama’s narration happens from a point in the future when she is an adult, her narrative voice is still that of a child, stuck in those early childhood experiences.

It is when it becomes clear how their lives intersect in a jarring plot twist and the extent of the sexual/gendered violence in the novel that the shift from amazing to “wtf” happened. This is where this review gets spoilery and triggery.

+++

I read this book now because it just won the Tiptree Award. It says on the award’s website:

With profound compassion and insight, the novel tackles relationships between gender and culture and between gender and violence. It provides a nuanced portrait of violence against women, in a variety of forms, and violence perpetrated by women. Through the eyes of two narrators linked by a single act of violence, the reader is brought to confront shifting ideas of gender, class, and human agency and dignity.

I’d like to unpack that so that I can unpack my own feelings about the novel.

I don’t think there is anything nuanced about the portrait of violence against women here. Quite the contrary, I would argue. There is no “single” act of violence either, there are in fact many of them, from different places, affecting both these women and all women around them.

Yes, there is a case to be made about the fact that both narrators are indeed unreliable and how that colours the narration. However, the story is still framed by violence against women in a way that I felt 1) was used as shock value and/or 2) its very existence goes unchallenged.

For most of her narrative, Meena refuses to acknowledge even to herself what she did. It’s only very late into the novel when she – almost miraculously might I add – is able to regain a measure of stability and recount what really happened: Meena is fleeing the scene of a crime she committed, where she violently beat up and possibly murdered her lover, a trans woman named Mohini. Mohini is the person Meena addresses most of her narrative to but she has barely any voice in the telling. Meena sees her in a way that I found objectified Mohini rather than humanised her. And I ultimately find that Mohini is another example of a Tragic Queer character whose demise is brought upon by others and serves to motivate someone else’s story. This is painful, frustrating and problematic.

What made Mariama run was the witnessed rape of her mother. She later is sexually abused by a much older woman when she is still a child. Later in life, she witness another rape, when another woman is raped in front of her eyes. Mind you, it’s worth noting that I don’t have a problem with how Mariama’s sexual abuse as a child is described (it seems I also somehow managed to completely miss the controversy around this scene): it is a deeply horrifying, discomfiting scene for many obvious reasons but mostly because it is from the perspective of a deeply traumatised, unbalanced child who does not realise what is being done to her. I did not feel the narrative condoned it in any shape or form.

But here is what went on and on inside my head when reading this: what does it say about a novel set in the future where so many cultural, social, political, economical aspects of society are shifting, except for this one? What does it say about a novel written by someone outside the societies it portrays, that shows that type of violence as though it is an intrinsic part of those cultures and societies? What does it mean when that violence reeks of inevitability?

I do not think the novel allows the reader “to confront shifting ideas of gender”: because they are not shown as shifting. They are shown as something that has happened in the past, is happening now and will happen in the future. And I hope it goes without saying that I am not advocating here that we somehow erase those stories, because gendered violence is a very real thing that is worth writing about and worth seeing portrayed, examined and questioned. I just want this to be done well. Ultimately, I don’t feel I can say this about The Girl in the Road.
Profile Image for Patrick Sprunger.
120 reviews27 followers
February 4, 2014
The Girl in the Road is a dystopian, surrealist, Rorschach mindfuck initially disguised as a simple trashy book for ladies. Thankfully, it isn't anything nearly as classifiable. To the extent anything can be in this day and age, TGITR is a completely new literary form.

I don't like writing "I can't explain this book" anymore than anyone likes reading such a cowardly sentence. I'm tempted to compare The Girl in the Road to Middlesex, A Thousand Splendid Suns, or even (at a stretch) to Swamplandia! just to have something to, you know, say. But that would be colossally foolish.

One doesn't so much read TGITR as go deeper and deeper into the fractal of Monica Byrne's prose. When - if - I ever get tempted to stop trying to detangle her observations on sexuality, globalism, religion, rites of passage, and pilgrimage I have the author's own words to urge me forward: "Such beauty cannot amount to nothing or the universe would not cohere." TGITR is a tough book. I won't sugar coat the fact. But like all "tough" books, there are deep rewards waiting for the reader with perseverance. A work of rare beauty.

(Now they just need to something about the horrid graphic design and typeface used in the proof I was given to review.)
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,049 followers
September 1, 2015
This book defied my expectations at every turn. It is near-future but in two different times and locations. Mariama is in a caravan heading to Ethiopia across land, and Meena is heading to Ethiopia from India, across the Arabian Sea, on a floating road made of metallic hydrogen. Interesting concepts for the near-future, and nice to have African and Indian characters and settings. The writing is my type - emotional, internal dialogue, pondering greater meanings.

Everyone keeps calling it sci-fi, I imagine because of the brief technology mentions, but I think it fits more in fantasy - people who may or may not be human/gods/ghosts, the quest/journey, the lesson, the good vs. evil, the superhuman moments - feels like fantasy to me!

I listened to this in audio and the two readers, Dioni Collins and Nazneen Contractor, do a brilliant job. I listened to the last disc three times because I'm not entirely sure what happened. I'm still not.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Monica Byrne for the Reading Envy Podcast, episode 038.
Profile Image for Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede.
1,938 reviews787 followers
February 5, 2017
When it comes to this book am I glad that I'm reviewing books because it made me analyze the book's story both during the reading and after and I think it made me appreciate the book a bit more than if I only had read it without having to think about what to write.

One thing I reflected on was that the blurb on the book was very vague and it made the reading a bit difficult because the book is not making much sense in the beginning. The book started with Meena, but then the book shifted focus to Mariama and then I felt even more lost. So, I checked up the book on Goodreads and read the blurb and some reviews there and then I got a more sense to the story. Still a bit confused, but now at least I knew that there was to different stories set in different times and I knew more about Mariama.

We have Meena in a futuristic world, she has just woken up with five snake bites on her chest and she doesn't know how she got them or why, but she feels that she has to leave India for her birthplace Ethiopia. She decided to take the Trail; an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea to reach her destination.

Mariama story takes place some time before Meenas. Mariama is a young girl that witness her mother being raped and flees away with a caravan that is transporting oil through the Saharan Africa. She also meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman.


Through the book get to know both Mariama and Meena and towards the end, their stories are linked together. I think both stories are about repressed memories. Mariama has repressed her memory of why she has to flee and Meena has repressed the memory of her mother's rape. It's interesting that both chooses snakes, Mariama has been bitten by a snake and Meena sees a blue snake in her mother's tent. But I can't say that I found the book easy to read or understand and I found the ending a bit confusing.

What made the book work for me was the futuristic take on the world. I was intrigued about the Trail and how it worked, apparently using metallic hydrogen you can in the future build an energy-harvesting bridge that you can walk on. I just wish it had been more explained how wide it was, first I visualize it to be quite thin then when people showed up on it during Meenas travel did it suddenly felt a lot wider.

In the end, I could not give it more than 2.5 stars (gave it a half star more while writing the review). I found much of the story confusing while I read it, some things I still find confusing after I have read the book. I couldn't really connect with the story and its characters. I think for the right person is this book probably really interesting.

I would have liked a more straightforward story with the main point being a futurist world with its social, religious and culture differences to our time. The Trail was such an interesting idea that I would have loved the focus more on that. But instead, we have a story about as I see it two damaged women that have suffered traumatic experiences and we get to know as the story progress what is the cause of it.

But I do find it also in a way fascinating, it was different from what I usually read and it's always nice to broaden your view.

2.5 stars

Thank you Piatkus for providing me with a free copy for an honest review!
Profile Image for Nnedi.
Author 151 books15.1k followers
July 7, 2014
Beautifully written. A wonderful odd odd tale with an intertwining narrative full of so many interesting voices. It gave me the creeps, took me to an Africa and Indian future, and had a hell of a twist at the end that made me shout "HO HO! What the heck?!" as I nearly fell off the Stairmaster. I love books that do that to me. Books shouldn't just affect us mentally, they should affect us physically, too. I listened to the audiobook version and some of the accents were better than others. A lot of the African accents sounded really stilted.
Anyway, Girl in the Road is not perfect, but I don't need my novels to be perfect. Yes yes yes to this; read it. Oh and the title of this book rocks.
Profile Image for Monica.
592 reviews622 followers
July 29, 2018
Definitely unsettling!! The Girl in the road is a very strange road trip in the near future dealing secondarily with climate change and alternative energies. Its all quite confusing but the meat of the story involves a sort of genetic trauma and/or a societal/cultural mental illness of an oppressed people--primarily women. A rather searing bite at the worldwide patriarchy, historical colonization, exploitation of natural resources, religions, mythology, heritage, feminism, emerging technologies, environment and climate change. This one packs a powerful punch with meaningful observations about the nature of mankind and our civilization. While the book deals primarily with India and Africa (yes I know one is a country and the other is a continent--to be fair the road trip in Africa is through multiple countries with different cultures), I think Byrne is speaking to worldwide attitudes (entitlement) of the wealthy about poor countries, with huge natural resources. Byrne makes really strong, poignant points about the treatment of women or more specifically how they are valued (or not) in different cultures even by other women. Byrne doesn't shy away from sexuality with cisgender, lesbian, homosexual and even transgender relationships are explored. This is a brutal world where the callous disregard for women and people in poor countries is expected and ordinary. There are triggers here . There is some sexual behavior in the book. Interestingly enough . To be honest, the mental illness seems rampant but Byrne doesn't really go into explanations (not a criticism). She leaves it up to the reader to determine whether or not things really happened the way they are portrayed by some very unreliable narrators. It's a thought provoking book that covers a variety of vary complex subjects. I'm impressed with this author. She is writing about cultures that are not her own and I found it to be well done. I will be thinking about its messages and symbolism for a long time to come. It’s a labyrinthine novel that is well worth a read.

4 Stars

Read on kindle
Profile Image for R.S. Carter.
Author 4 books76 followers
August 26, 2014
If M.C. Escher ever wrote a book, this would be it. I feel like I just read Escher's Relativity lithograph, because The Girl in the Road is the book it would be if one could translate visual art into a novel.


The science-fiction aspect of this novel is quite thrilling. Wave energy! We've harnessed the power of the constant waves across the ocean with an energy-harvesting bridge that spans an entire sea. It is not a bridge that is meant for travel, but Meena braves the trek alone and armed with an assortment of high-tech gadgetry to help her on her quest, including a solar-charged inflatable pod for sleeping, and underwater escape during storms.

But all the sci-fi mentions, such as the implanted chips to record everyone's movement, is mere milieu for the real story. Told through alternating chapters, two women travel to Ethiopia in different directions and at different times. The moment of intersection is as surreal as the telling of the story.

The common symbol throughout the story is the snake and what it means to both women. The symbolism is shown repeatedly, and the true meaning revealed only at the end. It reminded me of the symbol of an Ouroboros which may have even been referenced in the book (I thought it had been referenced as a town but upon a second inspection, I could not locate it) - the symbol is of a snake eating its own tail.

The beginning comes back to repeat itself. In this case - herself.
Profile Image for Maja (The Nocturnal Library).
1,013 reviews1,890 followers
September 14, 2015


The Girl in the Road follows bravely in the footsteps of some of the most famous science fiction authors. It is a very ambitious debut project, but Monica Byrne is more than up to the task. In it, she offers an elaborate vision of our future, focusing mostly on new energy sources. Byrne takes her time in explaining the new sources of energy and the advancements in existing ones. Her imagination is largely based on possibilities and probabilities, which gives her world an almost tangible quality. In addition, with a story set partly in India and partly in Africa, she gives us a clear view of different cultures with a very modern twist.

Bryne’s writing style is very thick, lush and intense. She sometimes jumps randomly from memory to memory, event to event, which gives her narrative a dreamlike quality, an amount of uncertainty in how much of it is real and how much is happening inside Meena’s head. And Meena’s head, let me tell you, is a wondrous place, filled with seemingly odd conclusions and paranoid jumps.

The story is full of symbolism, with meaning hidden behind meaning in several layers. Snake is the most prominent symbol, often mentioned throughout the book, reminding us constantly of ouroboros, the mythological symbol depicting a serpent eating its own tail. It symbolizes renewal, the endless cycle, things that end only to begin again. It’s easy to see why it is central in Meena’s story.

“The snake begins and ends all things, of course.”

The Girl in the Road is practically bursting from diversity of all types. Meena is Ethiopian and bisexual and her former lover – her one great love – transitioned from man to woman while they were together. When you add to that cultural diversity, The Girl in the Road becomes a novel one can read, enjoy, but also learn from. Byrne approaches all these things matter-of-factly, as one should, and the result is a book that is freeing and feministic, even though it might make a more conservative reader run for the hills.

Neil Gaiman wrote that it is transfixing to watch Monica Byrne become a major player in science fiction, and as usual, Neil Gaiman was right. With such a strong debut behind her, who knows what she has in store for us next.
Profile Image for Anastasia Kallah.
79 reviews21 followers
August 16, 2020
Ho-LY Sh*t.

I LOVE it.
I love it I love it I love it.

Reading The Girl in the Road, I had not yet made it halfway through, its fast became one of my favorite books. Truthfully, just after reading the first few lines, I was hooked, with no possible way of escape. This title's publication date isn't set until May 2014, and even though I'm reading it in ebook format, I'm desperate to get my hands on a physical copy. I could EAT this book.

The Girl in the Road is a book about death and dying, giving birth and new life.

The story begins with subtle themes of spirituality born of a traumatic event. A snake bite. Blood, pumping from the shallow between Meena's breasts. White bandaging applied in the shape of a cross. All the foundational elements required for the building of a religion are accounted for.

The surrounding scene in the midst of her exodus is dizzying; the day is the ninth day of Odem, a yearly ten-day festival honoring King Mahabali. Excitements peak and ceremonial flowers tower and reach their toppling point. An atmosphere of gaiety thins the barriers of caste and creed as participants make merry.

Like the revered and beloved King Mahabali, so loved for his kindness and generosity that Lord Vishnu was provoked into a jealousy so severe, he pushed the goodly king off the edge of the earth, the character Meena draws the attention of an unknown assailant who plants a deadly snake in her bed, causing her to flee her hometown while around her, celebrants are wild with revelry as they prepare for a parade.

The young woman, Meena, describes her state as both manic and sanctified. Leaving the heart of "the world," she walks past another parade; a long road lined with religious statues and icons to further embed the sensation of sanctification and to a degree, the day of her own birthing.

Intricate and complex, Monica Byrne first novel is a deeply satisfying read. Rich layers of history and character development give her protagonist an impression of intimate familiarity, creating the illusion of personal investment in her quest. Escaping from an unknown assailant, Meena sets out across forbidden territory, an energy-harvesting bridge crossing the Atlantic Ocean in her crusade to piece together the puzzle of her mother's death, and soothe her longing for maternal love by gaining insight as to her mother's life. Seven meters below the surface of the ocean, Meena finds herself connected by an umbilical-like cord to the Trail. In underwater orb, Meena reflects on times she has longed for her mother. It is as if, in the black, rocking, depths of the ocean, curled, naked, in the fetal position within the womb-like confines of the orb, she enters into a season of mourning and self-evaluation, and always, visions of an unknown girl in the road.

Written in a futuristic time of sexual and racial fluidity in which gender and ethnic identification are surgically reassigned and prejudices in that regard have all-but died off, the story veers into a sub-plot bringing a lavish complexity to Meena's pilgrimage. A young slave girl, Mariama, embarks in her own journey to Ethiopia hidden away in the back of a truck, also seeking to fill the vast space of being left motherless. The weaving of their individual journeys creates a place of unexpected intersect, leaving the stunned reader with the suggestion of the savory essence of a myth turned legend.

THE GIRL IN THE ROAD is Monica Byrne's first novel, an experience which she describes as, "a labor of love--two years of prep, four months of travel, three years of writing--and I really had no idea whether anyone would respond to it. The fact that people *are* is...well, overwhelming."

I was overwhelmed reading it.

A digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher for purposes of review.
Profile Image for Mishehu.
500 reviews24 followers
November 9, 2018
Finding #1: it is possible to overuse the terms "yoni" and "kreen".
Finding #2: a story can be simultaneously boring, confusing, and (yet) fascinating.
Finding #3: what the #%^* happened?
The Girl in the Road is a bizarrely gripping entry in the anthro-anarcho-tech-futurism literature, a genre that may well have this novel as its lone exemplar. I have no idea who the recommended reader for TGitR is, and have my doubts that I am him -- there being an over-liberal smattering of yonis and kreens, and I finding myself, not infrequently as I read, either confused, bored, or confusedly bored. But I was pretty fascinated along the way as well -- in particular by the quest that runs through the novel, both qua quest and for its technical aspects. I should also note that Monica Byrne can really turn a phrase. And so I would (and will) recommend this book. But caveat lector: this is not your typical girl venerates yoni, girl meets kreen story...
Profile Image for Erica.
1,331 reviews435 followers
April 11, 2017
Here is an accurate pictorial representation of this story:



And that's all I'm going to be able to pull off for my review because I have notes upon notes upon more notes but I can't put them together coherently.


Post Script:
Some of the things in this future are ah-may-zing!! All the stuff Meena had with her for her trek across the ocean? SO cool! Birth control? SO COOL!
Meena's description of using the bathroom and dealing with her period while on the trail made me exceedingly happy. Survival tales rarely go into that territory, choosing to gloss over it all quickly when they do touch upon the topic. This one sits you down with a concrete explanation and then moves on and I admired that terribly.
But it was miserably disheartening to see so much of today's suckiness still strong and active in that future.
Profile Image for Dawn F.
495 reviews65 followers
March 8, 2022
What did I just read?? This ended with me literally gaping and sitting with about a million gazillion questions I need answers to. I honestly have no idea how to rate this.

Overall, it was captivating and full of ideas and intriguing plotlines. Especially the trail, the wave energy absorbing technology spanning the surface of the Arabian sea, which some people choose to illegally walk across, sounded completely different than anything I’d heard of before and I loved exploring that. I wanted to get into the experience of walking an endless water desert. That’s not the main focus, though, as this story takes many many many detours, revealing to us Meena’s past (I think??), and then jumping to her being a political activist, while also skipping time and place to follow another young girl, as she crosses the African continent, and hearing her thoughts and feelings as she grows up. I have no idea how the two women are connected, though. I have no idea who the girl in the road is. I have no idea what this story was really about or how anything connected lol. I can’t remember being so puzzled before!

I was all into the narrative voices, though, and very much enjoy non white, Western focused stories, which will teach me bits and pieces about other cultures than my own along the way. I was very intrigued through all of it, I just don’t quite know what to make of it.

I could have done without all the weird sex talk and female genitalia obsession, though.
Profile Image for Amber.
1,964 reviews
September 2, 2016
So yeah, I kind of liked this book a little bit but then I kind of hated it. I want to chew up the pages and throw em up, just as sort of some symbolic gesture.

There are some very promising themes and interesting things you don't see in every book you find; love, betrayal, hetero and homosexual relationships, energy development, India and Ethiopia and people of color. All of these things could have very easily led this to be a very interesting book. I get this book, I do, I find the weaving together of the characters and their personal histories fascinating. This could have been such an amazing story, following the separate, but yet interconnected, stories of two women, one who finds herself in Ethiopia after a long journey and the other running on the "Trail" from a lover she injured in India. The "trail" is in itself a fascinating and completely new idea, an energy source that also acts as sort of bridge across the ocean.

However, no matter how much I appreciate a story, describing a child molestation event as some sort of religious event for a child automatically earns a zero score. Flat out, if you attempt to highlight molestation as a good thing, you're done. I won't read anything else by this writer and won't recommend her to anyone.
Profile Image for Marissa Morrison.
1,704 reviews18 followers
June 7, 2014
There were times when I couldn't wait to get a chance to sit down and read some more of this book. The middle is especially good, as both stories build momentum. There's the story of Meena, a woman in India who is running away to Djibouti on a manmade metallic trail in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Then there's Mariama, a preadolescent runaway who is traveling across Africa on the back of a cargo truck. Ultimately Byrne reveals both characters to be extremely unappealing, and the plots come together in a way that's reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. By the epilogue I had a bad taste in my mouth. I couldn't figure out who was the narrator, who was the woman opening the door, or who was the little girl...and frankly I didn't want to spend any more time on this book to try and figure it all out.
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews723 followers
August 6, 2016
This book is intriguing, confusing, fascinating, innovative… To be honest, I did not know what to think of it. Whether to like it or not at times, who is who in the woven storylines of Meena and Mariana, Yemaya, the barefoot girl, Mohini… like other reviewers. Is it scifi, hallucination, reality…. But I’ve never read a story like this and I applaud the writer for the great inventiveness. Quite refreshing. After I finished it, I thought about it a lot. Who is the lady in the end for example…The characters, backgrounds, cultures, settings, connections… Not much to say as it would soon be spoiling. A highly intriguing and thought provoking book. Four stars. Recommended for those who like an 'out of the box' read.
Profile Image for Kait.
489 reviews11 followers
August 31, 2014
Thanks to First Reads for giving me the opportunity to read this book!

I really wanted to like this book. To the point where I was getting frustrated with myself for NOT liking it. The concept was fresh and had great potential. The characters are both female and POC, which is rare and fantastic. It took place in a futuristic India and Africa, a welcome change of scenery. Though the premise was promising, the execution just didn't live up to it.

Meena and Mariama are two females living in different countries, in different future generations, aged twenty years apart. But both are bitten by a snake, they decide to run away, both heading off to the same new country, Ethiopia. Meena travels on The Trail, a small road made of thousands of connected metal buoys in the ocean between the two nations. Mind you, the trail is an energy conductor not meant for human travel. Only the desperate attempt it. Mariama stows away in a trading caravan and when discovered, the leaders of the group realize the difficult life she's lived so far and reluctantly agree to take her with them.

The plot is kind of hard to describe beyond that. The two go on different journeys and meet different people along the way. They both meet a special person in their life that they almost come to revere as a spiritual being. It's all supposed to be very surreal and existential, but sometimes it felt monotonous, as if the author created these characters for the protagonists to run into just so something would happen.

Connecting with characters is important to me. This wasn't really the book for that. Both Meena and Mariama were interesting, but not likable. You're not meant to understand their struggles, just accept them. I found myself diagnosing Meena as bipolar early on, which tended to make her the more interesting of the two, even though Mariama has more interactions. But I wasn't invested in the fate of either them nor the characters that they exalted. I was more concerned about Mariama's secondary characters that were almost treated as an inconvenience in the writing and pushed aside. Secondary characters in Meena's story were forgettable at best, though that's probably in part to her "Fuck everyone" approach.

I applaud the author's intellect, globalism, and sexual awareness, but there were a couple instances where things were definitely out of my comfort zone. In particular, a scene where child molestation is presented as a spiritual experience. That's fucked up. I'm not okay with it. Maybe that means I don't "get it". Then okay, fuck that. I don't get it.

When you see how the characters are connected toward the end, it's pretty cool, but it wasn't the stunning revelation I wanted it to be.

Monica Bryne definitely has great potential as an author, but for me, her debut didn't live up to it.
Profile Image for Liz Barnsley.
3,430 reviews992 followers
September 5, 2015
The Girl in the Road was an interesting one for me. I’ll admit that I didn’t really “get it” whilst still being caught up in the language and the cultural imagery that the author brings to the story.

We have two times, two locations, two women, both on a journey of discovery. One across land and one across the floating road (which was an imaginative and well executed concept that was highly engaging). Apart from that I really don’t know what to say about the plot. It kind of has that inner turmoil/inner monologue/descriptive prose that defies explanation but still gets you to where you need to go.

There were several things I loved about it – Monica Byrne has written something different, created a future that itself could not be called any one thing – it just is what it is. For a lot of the read I wasn’t entirely sure where it was going (there is a lot of introspection and unreliable narrator vibe going on) but I was still somehow sucked into it – this was one that I kept re-reading little bits of, sometimes to clarify in my own head and sometimes just because of the author’s way with words.

Violence against women is explored here, sometimes a little too much so (although again I’m not really sure I grasped what the author was trying to achieve) and the world is a mish mash of cultural identity, gender, sexuality and attitudes. The way the two stories are linked was cleverly woven into the whole – this is fantasy and reality colliding somewhere in the middle and as such was an intriguing concept.

I think perhaps for me it was a little too convoluted when looked at as an entire first page to last read – there were portions of it that were stunning, shocking and emotionally resonant but they were mixed up in some almost mundane meandering points in time that I felt I wasn’t really getting.

Overall though this is a book that is meant to be read – one of those that everyone will take something different from, a book that will divide opinion and generate discussion – in THAT sense it works on all levels. I’m not sure I enjoyed it because enjoyed is not the right word – I admired it and had an interesting time reading it. Monica Byrne has attempted something very different and for that alone I’d recommend picking it up, the underlying messages are there for the taking and in the meantime you’ll get a vivid, imaginative and often heart wrenching tale which I can’t really tell you what you’ll do with.

Fascinating.
Profile Image for Hank.
794 reviews73 followers
March 18, 2020
4.5 stars rounded down. Overall ratings for this book are low yet I have 3 friends who have rated it 4+ (and they were clearly right). I probably still would not have read it but the $2 kindle sales are like heroin.

Take home short summary: Completely engaging and thought provoking book with just about every trigger warning you can think of, except spiders, based in parts of the world I don't read about often (African Sahel region and India) and an inventive near future.

Long version: A story, generally about mental illness completely brought on by societal mistreatment of women. Ok, not all mistreatment of women, some of it is mistreatment by those with money and power. It might sound like a dystopia but I would not mind living in this near future, just not as the main characters. There are two main characters, both female, both with some serious mental issues that manifest fairly violently at times and brought on by their individual situations...yet not. Byrne did a great job of creating attachment and sympathy for her "heroines" and then took bits of it away with their violent and unpredictable behaviors. There are two roads in the book, one primitive, one futuristic, both metaphors for the attempt to shed an old life or transform into something better. One leading into the future, one leading into the past.

As I type this, I might have to bump the rating up because there is so many issues that are still rumbling around in my head. As with most books I truly enjoy, Byrne set the issues up, pointed me in a direction but then left me to my own conclusions and thoughts. Abandonment, violence, "normal" romantic relationships, every other kind of romantic relationship, first world country exploitation of third world countries, infidelity, mental illness, religion, you name it, I could have focused on any one of those and written a couple of paragraphs.

Ultimately it isn't a book I am recommending to everyone. There are too many shocking parts that cover too many sensitive issues but Byrne has beautiful descriptions that counter some of the shock and an extremely thought provoking look at a possible near future. Thank you to Ed, Monica and Sarah for rating it high enough for me to give it a shot, I am glad I did not miss this one.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,135 reviews8,142 followers
June 8, 2015
3.5 stars

I went into this book knowing very little about it. It was available instantly on Overdrive, and after reading the extremely intriguing blurb, I decided to give it a chance.

I can say that this is one very well imagined and fresh novel. It's unique and cutting-edge and "with the times." The author, Monica Byrne, obviously cares passionately about relevant contemporary topics such as feminism, LGBTQ rights, and the encroachment of Western culture on the East. And it was extremely refreshing to read because of its diverse characters, the author's passion as evidenced by the storyline, and the creativity.

It's a sort of cli-fi/sci-fi novel set in late 21st century India and Africa (multiple countries in Africa). It follows Meena, an Indian runaway who wants to find her parents' murderer in Ehtiopia, and Mariama, a young girl escaping the village where her mother is raped in Western Africa. Their stories sort of parallel each other at times, and you begin to find out more and more about each. I enjoyed both voices immensely, especially as Mariama's story truly begins to unfold.

What really impressed me about this book, though, was an essay and Q&A that the author has in the back of the book. I'm not sure if every edition has it, but mine did and I read it after finishing the novel. Byrne seems genuinely passionate about what she writes, and she details her (immense) research for the novel and travel experiences that also parallel Meena and Mariama's story lines. It's truly enlightening, and, I think, so important to reading this book.

Overall, for creativity I'd give this book a 4/5, but the ending, though a bit unexpected, left a few too many threads to be resolved. I'm still not sure if I enjoy the ambiguity or not, so for that I'm giving it a 3.5/5.
Profile Image for Elizabeth Bear.
Author 309 books2,266 followers
January 21, 2015
This is a painful, glorious novel about murder, quests, self-delusion, and a stunning science fictional big idea: What would it be like to walk--*walk*--the length of a few-meter-wide wave generator stretching across the open sea from India to Africa, with only what you can carry on your back?

I'll be placing this one on some award ballots this year.
Profile Image for RandomAnthony.
394 reviews111 followers
July 22, 2014
I predict The Girl in the Road makes some noise this summer and beyond. While the novel isn’t flawless, Byrne’s exhilarating debut augurs a promising future.

The Girl in The Road tells two parallel stories. The first concerns a woman who wakes with snakes bikes on her chest. She’s convinced someone is out to kill her. The second takes the form of a woman telling her life story to the woman who took care of her after her mother’s sudden death. Set in a not-so-distant future in which burgeoning population and technological advances have shaken Africa and India into prominent global players, both main characters embark on life-changing journeys, one primarily on trucks through Eastern Africa, the other from east to west on “the trail”, a narrow, ocean-wide structure meant to harness the power of waves. The trail is emblematic of both Byrne’s influences (e.g. Murakami) and her go-for-broke bravery. She’s not afraid of big ideas. She makes integrating cultural and scientific elements look easy. The Girl in the Road reads quickly and challenges the reader to keep up with Byrne’s kaleidoscopic ambition. While at moments I felt Byrne was trying too hard to jam everything she had into this novel, it’s hard for me to criticize someone for literary courage. The Girl in the Road lands Byrne at the table with Gaiman, Murakami and the like. She’s an exciting new voice, and I look forward to what else she’s brewing.

P.S. I guess there's some controversy about a particular scene which I won't mention her for spoiler concerns, you'll know it when you see it, but I think the controversy's bullshit. Write on, Ms. Byrne, write on, brave as you can write.
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,514 reviews455 followers
November 3, 2016
What a strange book to review. It was strange to read also, but reading is a much more private experience, reviews require certain cohesive thought organization. Well...ok, this book has a certain immediate appeal, something about the strangeness of near future world and present tense narration draws the reader in. But then it meanders. Which is ironic (possibly) because the direction of the book's two heroines in their respective alternating plotlines is a very straight forward point A to point B journey. The young girl's trip via land and kindness of strangers. The young woman's trip via a continent spanning manmade pontoon style crossing and a variety of strangers with their varied kindness. The stories are related and eventually converge toward the end in a surprising and, frankly, story saving manner. So that's the basics of it. The novel itself is very much about atmosphere, set in a world recognizably similar to present day one and there are decades and decades worth of advances, fairly logical sort of technological ones and some very wild geopolitical ones. The world's powers have shifted, the book's entirety is set in India and Africa aka two least desirable places to visit according to me. The nations have undergone some radical changes, it's an interesting, semipossible concept, but it doesn't make them any more enticing. Though not to the author apparently, according to her essay included with the book, she visited Ethiopia and India for research purposes. She must have that skill of looking down in mud and seeing stars. She specified she tried to avoid romanticizing her locations and yet to me it came across not only as romanticized, but also fetishized in a way. And all of this was written as if by a yogi, with a sort of dreamy hallucinatory estrogeny approach and bright colors customary associated with such a mind state. It isn't unreadable, but it's distracting, especially with this being the case of the plot stronger than the narrative. It's a conceptual sort of a book, one I was ready be into and yet it didn't work. One, much like its heroines, that's just too difficult to like or enjoy. If not for the end of it, for the twisted finally revealed connection between the two, I'd write it off completely, but with it, the book can be written off as interesting, maybe. I don't think I'd want to read more works by the author and I probably wouldn't recommend this book easily, but there it is. With the amount of stink raised recently about cultural appropriation in a literary world, one can only imagine what can be said about a white American author writing from perspectives or an Indian and Ethiopian women, but frankly the idea of limiting creative imaginations to appease the contextually ignorant overzealously politically correct contingent is insultingly preposterous to entertain.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,133 reviews309 followers
November 2, 2021
When I started this book I didn't know what to think; it wasn't clear exactly what was going on at first. After reading it, you realise that going in blind and letting it all slowly come together is part of the appeal.

The thematic element of waves is used to great effect. Literally, the main character travels "the road", an ocean-spanning construct that harnesses the power of ocean waves. Symbolically, the two perspectives speaking in the book are waves that move in opposite directions in time, eventually meeting at the end.

That doesn't mean all is necessarily revealed; this is a book that requires some thinking beyond the time you finish the last page. Overall, I enjoyed it, but it is definitely not a light read.
Profile Image for Nick Imrie.
287 reviews128 followers
July 27, 2022
Have any of my female GR friends had the experience of their vagina making an "un-glocking noise" because arousal makes their "labia [get] so swollen they unsealed."

Before I start mocking this cringe and improbable description, I just want to make sure that I'm not the outlier!
Profile Image for fromcouchtomoon.
311 reviews64 followers
September 9, 2015

Perhaps this was marketed to the wrong crowd. This is nano-psychological horror. Not LGBT romance. Get the pink off the freakin' cover. Maybe that will help.


A disarming debut from an incredibly talented writer who puts her playwright skills to good use with a theatrical employment of literary devices (meaning: she kind of beats you over the head with the symbolism, foreshadowing, unreliable narrators, and tricksy tech switcharoos, but looking at these reviews, it still fooled a lot of readers who were surprised by the ending). For readers who are quick to recognize such elements, the heavy-handedness is a plus as it reinforces that sense of drama. I sensed it coming like the beating of drum throughout most of the novel. It was a delicious doom.


And good god, she pays attention to detail: internal thoughts, atmospheric details, maps crackling, just everything. I think she must have acted out every character of every scene before she committed them to paper.


The flaws: it's a difficult task for western Anglophone writers to diversify their casts and add cultural elements when they're writing gritty, edgy stuff. Would it be a socially healthier read if both protags were hetero white men and all the victims were hetero white men? But I think we've all read that before and we're bored with it and we're tired being told to fear men. Plus, we would lose the cultural and feminist nuance, which adds so much to the tale. It is a constant problem in fiction to see women and people of color and transgendered individuals constantly cast as villians and victims, but I think Byrne adds enough nuance and psychological depth to empower all of her characters within their complicated conditions. No one is a token character, everyone has agency, but messed up stuff happens because, as I said, this is more in the vein of psychological horror-- and, yeah, that's why I usually stay away from that subgenre. But Byrne rocked it.


In a few scenes and passing references, Byrne portrays the kind of "why didn't you report it" rape that permeates our reality. It's slimy and ugly and it feels like nothing really happens but it makes you feel gross when you read it. This is the "A-ha!" moment that so many victim-blamers need to see. I normally deplore rape in fiction, but Byrne seems to be striving to highlight those invisible rapes that society likes to dismiss. I found those few portrayals to be effective, appropriate, and necessary to the tale, and an important change from the "stranger-danger with ropes" rape that we see so often in fiction that serves to erase the larger percentage of rapes that occur from trusted sources in safe places that nobody ever wants to report.


Aside from the trigger warning, this is not a story for prudes. Lots of sex-ay times.


For sci-fi fans, it brims with sensawunda. If you love Robinson and Gibson and McDonald, you will love Byrne. This should have been on more shortlists. You can bet I will be snatching up the next Byrne novel the moment I hear about it.


Not sure how much of this or when this will show up on my blog, so I decided to post here. Look at you, Amazon, don't you feel so special?






Profile Image for Theo.
108 reviews2 followers
February 18, 2015
I was slightly disappointed by the ending of the book, but overall I was excited to read a book about queer characters in a non-u.s.-centric setting. Like, it's pathetic that those two things are all it takes to make me like a book, right? Too bad.

I also liked the narration and the voice of both Meena and Mariama. I could have read this book in a single setting if I wouldn't have had to go to work. As it stands, I finished it in three days. This has significance because the last book I read in this short amount of time was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows almost two years ago.

What I'm saying is, though there were some disappointments in the book (which I will get to), I enjoyed reading it much more than I have any other book I've read in the last two years.

*Spoilers may appear from this point on.*

I liked how the connection between Mariama and Meena developed. I saw it coming, but I loved reading their interwoven narratives to try to figure out what was coming next.

I was slightly disappointed by the fact that I was thrown headlong into the "scene." (If you've read the book, you know the one.) It did make me uncomfortable. I wish it would have been even more glossed over. I kind of wish there had been a trigger warning, because I felt nauseous. However, it does sort of highlight the way that Mariama's mind works? I mean, Mariama completely idealizes and romanticizes sexual assault. She thinks of what happened to her as something good and whole and pure. It fucks her up on every level.

The other thing I was disappointed by was the fact that Mohini's character ended up proving Meena's grandma right. Boo. Also, there is a part where Meena describes she and Mohini being together as "man and woman" before Mohini gets her genital reconstruction surgery which is inaccurate, considering that trans women are women regardless of their genitalia. (I know some people will argue with me, but I have too many trans friends who tell me this is the case and I'm more inclined to listen to them than anyone else.)

As a response to some people's disappointment by the phallic imagery: The way I see it, if we're counting the snake and the Trail as phallic images, both Mariama and Meena were disappointed by men with penises. The snake bites, and a man rapes Mariama's mother. The snake bites (though it isn't a snake) and Meena discovers that her lover is fucking someone else. The trail ends with both of them being disappointed. It makes sense to me. Fuck the phallus. It will only disappoint, amirite?
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