"My name is Rory Dawn Hendrix, feebleminded daughter of a feebleminded daughter, herself the product of feebleminded stock." Rory Dawn is plenty smart. Entrusted to abusive babysitters while her single mother worked (and drank), R.D. had no choice but to look out for herself from the time she was very young.
"There's breadcrumbs on the phone and the nine button is sticking I'm pushing it so hard, but I put on my best I'm-a-normal-kid voice when the ringing stops. 'Hi, it's Ror,' The bartenders don't even wait for me to ask, sometimes they don't even wait for my name but interrupt me to say, 'Haven't seen her,' or sometimes there's a hopeful pause while they hold the phone up high and look around before they say, 'You just missed her,' and ain't that the truth."
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is set in a trailer park on the edge of Reno, Nevada. R.D.'s mother had her first child in 1959, when she was 15 years old, and three more soon after. By the time R.D. came along in 1973, her four brothers were all living with their father in California.
R.D.'s mother used to be a hippie, back when "Mama was still kid enough to rock her shelves with Kerouac [...] When she was still kid enough to send her own kids off to school with hair so long they got beat for it. [...] My brothers grew up with too much beat and not enough rhythm in a house, an actual house, full of Buddhas and Nag Champa, prayer flags and peace signs. But our house, Mama's and mine, has wheels and is kept so clean it's always ready to roll."
R.D. writes prayers to St. Jude and studies a library copy of the Girl Guide handbook for answers. Her troop is a troop of one, but she is a survivor. I love the way Hassman mixes excerpts from social services documents, newspaper clippings and personal letters with Rory Dawn's wonderful voice.
Readalikes - stories of young people surviving poverty and abuse: Lullabies for Little Criminals (Heather O'Neill); No Bones (Anna Burns); Tricks (Ellen Hopkins); The Lesser Blessed (Richard Van Camp); The Summer of My Amazing Luck (Miriam Toews); Bastard Out of Carolina (Dorothy Allison); You Don't Know Me (David Klass).