Rory Dawn Hendrix lives with her mom in the Calle de las Flores Trailer Park, just north of Reno and just south of nowhere. Rory can trace her lively lineage through three generations of high-school dropouts, unwed mothers, welfare moms, alcoholics, gamblers, bartenders and bar hoppers.
But little Rory is smart, a big surprise to all concerned. She can spell anything and gets good grades. Much of her wisdom comes from reading the Girl Scout Handbook over and over, giving each section her own edgy interpretation. Of course there are no Girl Scouts in the Calle. Rory is a troop of one.
The plot takes us from Rory's girlhood to her fifteenth year, during which short span some very bad things happen and a few good things. Although mothering is not a strong suit in the Hendrix family, Rory loves her mother and grandmother and gives us a moving picture of these vibrant women through personal observation, social worker files, letters and local lore. At the same time, she tells her own story, which is a shocker.
The novel is a knockout cocktail of humor, misery and entirely original ingredients. The writing is terrific, with a jazzy-bluesy flavor. Elements of surrealism and a weakness for wordplay show up now and then in the unpredictable narrative structure.
I tend to get confused when style overshadows storyline, and this happens occasionally in Girlchild. But other readers will be more adventurous and have no difficulties, I'm sure, with the stylistic detours. I enjoyed the novel and would recommend it to readers with a taste for experimental fiction.