The Girl is the first novel by Victory Whitherkeigh.
Finished on: 21.12.2022
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer give-away.]
Content Note: child abuse, sexualized violence
Having moved from the Philippines to the USA, the girl grows up with her mother, father and brother, but she has always been an outsider in her own family. Her parents are cruel to her while doting on her brother, repeatedly telling the girl that she is evil and dangerous. In school, too, the girl often experiences being the odd one out and has difficulties to connect despite being an excellent student and athlete. And then there is this voice that whispers to her when she’s at her loneliest. Maybe there is something to her parents’ fear of her.
The Girl builds from an interesting idea, but I had my problems with the way it is structured and told. Most of my problems with the book can be attributed to growing pains of a new writer, but that doesn’t make it a better read, unfortunately.
The Girl is an entire book made up of backstory. It starts basically with the birth of the girl and ends with her heading to college. Presumably that is when the story would actually start, but unfortunately we never get to that point. So, we learn everything about how the girl grows up, all the abuse she suffers in her family (at one point, the girl says that the way she is treated is “almost abusive”, but I promise you, this is complete abuse in practically all of its forms), the sexualized violence she experiences in her peer group, the betrayals and fights with her female friends. Interspersed through this chronology of misery is the first time she encounters Death and through him the demon who lives inside her when she is 16 years old.
I thought for sure that at one point, the backstory would catch up with this demon encounter and that then the actual plot would take off, but once the backstory timeline does catch up with that, it just continues. I was so confused about it, I actually didn’t realize that we had already moved past the time of the encounter until a few chapters later. That narrative structure is a problem for the flow of the story. As was the episodic structure of the backstory that introduces characters left and right and drops them from the story just as quickly (at least those characters get names, contrary to the central family, and are therefore easier to distinguish, except for one time when two characters inexplicably get the same name and the second “Devon” is only mentioned once, then disappears forever).
There were also very awkward phrases every couple of pages or so that made me want to get out my editor pen as I read – this is always a bad sign. Not necessarily because the writing is so bad, but because I am obviously too removed from the story that I start thinking about the writing too much.
As I said, I thought that the idea behind The Girl was really interesting, and I liked how Filippino myths are included in the world-building. I also liked that the girl is apparently bisexual, although her restrictive environment doesn’t really allow her to explore this in any meaningful way. The book is certainly emotionally affective, and the loneliness of the girl jumps off the page. But the constant barage of bad things that happen to her is also so tiring that you will probably check out of the story at some point. It definitely happened to me.
I don’t know if there are any sequels planned to this novel – it feels like the ending would be a good starting point for a book that actually has a bit more of a plot. But even if there is a sequel, I don’t think I will stick around for it.
Summarizing: too much misery, not enough story.