Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is a first novel from an author who is not afraid to challenge her readers by using a non-traditional narrative style that includes reports from social worker’s files, fractured story-telling, and even mathematical story problems that serve as metaphors, layering more meaning into what is being told than a simpler narrative style could possibly achieve. Even chapters that on the surface seem irrelevant work as metaphors that give the primary story a subtext so that nothing is wasted.
Ambitious throughout, the story of Rory Dawn reads like a prose poem; but a brutal one, lyrical in the way that a well-phrased rap song can be, infused with anger and brutality and a raw honesty that bleeds on every page. Although it is a compelling story and I found myself aching for the protagonist, I also found myself putting this book down easily, too emotionally exhausted by what I was reading to read even another chapter. And most of the chapters are very short so it wasn’t the length that daunted me. Hassman doesn’t need a lot of pages to say a lot and so much can happen in very few pages that to not put the book down was simply impossible.
At no point does the author pander to her audience although she does have an agenda. However, she is light handed with her “lesson” and creates a solid enough narrative that the moral of the story never feels shoved into the story. Nor does she provide a convenient or trite ending to the story—unlike another novel I reviewed some time past.
Masterfully told, this novel is nonetheless relentless and so I highly recommend it but with caution. In some ways, this is a disturbing novel, as well it should be. To dismiss this is to denigrate the protagonist’s experience which, while told through an intelligently formed fiction, is rooted in too much honesty to not be honored. And Hassman is nothing if not honest in the story she has chosen to tell and the manner in which she has created to tell it.