Sonder Reads | Tupelo Hassman's Girlchild

Girlchild is the exuberant, arresting debut of Tupeol Hassman. It is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, ‘feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded daughter, herself the product of feebleminded stock.’ Born to the Calle, a Nevada trailer park as poor and forgotten as the dirt it sits upon, Girlchild sees Rory attempt to navigate her way to adolescence through the generational scars and broken system which have left her abused and neglected, smarter than expected, and raised by women who can’t hardly help their own selves do more than stay afloat in the circumstances surrounding them. Hassman, with a miraculous ear for the play and necessity of language, has shaped a novel from instances – the narration itself pieced together: a jumbled amalgamation of social workers’ records; Rory’s own half-remembered family histories and clouded memories; word problems; letters; Supreme Court judgements; and the Girl Scout Handbook. Each chapter a vividly rendered yet narrowly focused window into Rory’s life, the lives of the women who bore and raised her, and the world which made them. It is Hassman’s writing, however, which lights this novel on fire. The physicality of her language is startling and so, so right. To read Girlchild is to be transported: Hassman’s prose is luminous, poetic and wildly imaginative, crafted with nimble, lyrical precision and imbued with equal parts horror and humor. And although not much happens in this novel, it is a journey Hassman takes us on nonetheless. Rory, if unable to avoid becoming the statistic, at least survives it. Girlchild is hopeful, if unflinching, and unforgettably voiced. The portrait of a young girl coming of age in the school of hard-knocks and, despite the indeterminate, sometimes unbearable, odds, setting herself free.

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