Review: Girlchild: A Novel by Tupelo Hassman


What Attracted Me To The Book

I rarely browse the library shelves–wood or electronic, but the other day I needed an audiobook for my long commute and none of the audios I’d requested were in. I had also recently noticed that my list of books by state was missing Nevada. I saw this cover, read the blurb about a girl in a dysfunctional life in Nevada who learns from the Girl Scout Handbook, and knew I’d found a gem. For the record, I taught myself to make a bed properly, with hospital corners, from my own Girl Scout Handbook that I still own.


The Story

Rory Dean Hendrix, born ten years after me in 1972, is growing up as the “Feeble minded daughter of a feeble minded mother,” growing up on the Callie, a trailer park, in Reno, Nevada, with a mother who serves at the truck stop bar or lives off the county, depending on the moment.  Hers is a story teachers and social workers alike can recite all too well. It is the white, rural story told in The Hillbilly Elegy and currently labeled systemic, multigenerational  poverty. Never enough of anything–food, attention, oversight, even when the parent genuinely loves the child, which isn’t a given. Abuse is common.

What I Loved

I loved the “anthropological” aspects of the story best–the commentary on the manners and mores of the trailer park. Those who still have cigarettes when the welfare check and food stamps run out will share with those going without. At a funeral, the bottle opener will be tied to a string on one of the ice chests. Have refreshment first, even if you don’t pass out. Funerals are often a time for rites of passage for teenagers–loss of %irgin!ty or first drink are common.

Then there are the word problems: If a pickup truck being driven thru the [trailer park] by a man at .02% under the legal limit…show all your work (paraphrase). These are the most illuminating passages in the book. Superb.

“No making college plans when you can’t make breakfast plans.” (Girlchild)

Finally, there is the moment in elementary school when avid-reader Rory defies the odds and shows “promise,” and represents her school in the spelling bee. I ached for her. This is a scene I see all the time in my first generation college students and in my own kids’ high school friends. She cannot believe she earns this so screws it up. The teachers and administrators then forget about her, nodding their heads.  I was pleased that the librarian was a defender of Rory’s, but which the author had spared us all the predictable librarian clichés even though they were meant to be clichés.

Final Thoughts

This book is a masterpiece of social commentary. A class on systemic poverty in rural America could use this and The Hillbilly Elegy and pretty much cover it all. Through in Nickled and Dimed in AmericaHeartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth and a playlist of hardluck Country Western songs.

I listened to the audio version of this book beautifully read by the author.


Girlchild: A Novel by Tupelo Hassman

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