This debut novel by Tupelo Hassman is not for the reader looking for a warm and fuzzy beach read. This is hard stuff—and really, really good stuff. If you've read Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina and Emma Donoghue's Room without ending up in a fetal position, you can read Girlchild. But be prepared.
Rory Hendrix comes from a long line of bad seeds. Her family portfolio is filled with abuse of all sorts, poverty, poor choices, drug use, unwed mothers, welfare, alcoholism, gambling, and dead ends. But Rory is resilient and, shockingly to everyone, brilliant. But is her smartness enough to save her?
She has a lot to contend with in this novel, which positively oozes poverty and desperation. Her life is hard, and her mother, though loving, makes poor choices which almost kill Rory—and certainly take away any innocence she may have had. Rory is friendless, practically parentless, and even terrified of living. But she keeps on surviving, determined to be the one to change the family cycle.
Hassman's prose is simply beautiful. She has a haunting voice, sad and cracked but determined, filled with poetry. I can't say I felt uplifted after reading Girlchild, although perhaps I felt hopeful. But to think that Rory's story is played out day after day in every town in the U.S. is heartbreaking. If you are a reader who appreciates a candid look at life below the poverty line, pick up Girlchild.