Girlchild (Hassman)

Tupelo Hassman, 2012
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
288 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781250024060

Rory Hendrix, the least likely of Girl Scouts, hasn’t got a troop or a badge to call her own. But she still borrows the Handbook from the elementary school library to pore over its advice, looking for tips to get off the Calle—the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mother, Jo, the sweet-faced, hard-luck bartender at the Truck Stop.

Rory’s been told she is one of the “third-generation bastards surely on the road to whoredom,” and she’s determined to break the cycle. As Rory struggles with her mother’s habit of trusting the wrong men, and the mixed blessing of being too smart for her own good, she finds refuge in books and language.

From diary entries, social workers' reports, story problems, arrest records, family lore, and her grandmother’s letters, Tupelo Hassman's Girlchild crafts a devastating collage that shows us Rory's world while she searches for the way out of it. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Tupelo Hassman's first novel, girlchild, was published in 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux and released in paperback by Picador in 2013.

Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Harper's Bazaar, The Independent, The Portland Review Literary Journal, sPARKLE & bLINK, We Still Like, ZYZZYVA, and by,, and Invisible City Audio Tours, among others. More is forthcoming from The Arroyo Review Literary Journal, Girls on Fire: Stories of and for Teen Girls, and This Land.

Tupelo was the first American ever to win London's Literary Death Match. She lives in San Francisco's East Bay where she can be found, most days, having a root beer on tap at The Hog's Apothecary. (From the author's website.)

Book Reviews
A voice as fresh as hers is so rare that at times I caught myself cheering.... I’d go anywhere with this writer.
Susannah Meadows - New York Times

Moments of strange beauty enhance our sense of the Calle community….[Hassman] makes Rory’s milieu feel universal.
Megan Mayhew Bergman - New York Times Book Review

So fresh, original, and funny you’ll be in awe…. Tupelo Hassman has created a character you’ll never forget. Rory Dawn Hendrix of the Calle has as precocious and endearing a voice as Holden Caulfield of Central Park.
Boston Globe

Powerful.... Rory transcends her bleak situation through dark humor and unaccountable smarts.
San Francisco Chronicle

A lyrical and fiercely accomplished first novel...In Hassman’s skilled hands, what could have been an unrelenting chronicle of desolation becomes a lovely tribute to the soaring, defiant spirit of a survivor.

Blighted opportunity and bad choices revisit three generations of women in a Reno, Nev., trailer park in these affecting dispatches by debut novelist Hassman. Narrator Rory Dawn Hendrix, “R.D.,” is growing up in the late ’60s on the dusty calle, where families scrape.... Poring over a secondhand copy of The Girl Scout Handbook, with its how-to emphasis on honor and duty, comforts R.D.... Hassman’s characters are hounded by a relentless, recurring poverty and ignorance, and by shame, so that the sins of the mothers keep repeating, and suicide is often the only way out. Despite a few jarring moments of moralizing, this debut possesses powerful writing and unflinching clarity.
Publishers Weekly

Bright young girl must endure family dysfunction and sexual abuse while coming of age in a Reno trailer park during the late 1980s.... Taking inspiration from a battered library copy of The Girl Scout Handbook, Rory does a remarkable job raising herself, while trying to let go of the people (and hurts) that no longer serve her. With a compelling (if harrowing) story and a wise-child narrator, Hassman's debut gives voice—and soul—to a world so often reduced to cliche. A darkly funny and frequently heartbreaking portrait of life as one of America's have-nots.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. Girlchild is set in a “town just north of Reno and just south of nowhere.” If the story were set elsewhere, how would the challenges Rory Dawn faces change? Or would they? What direct impact does geography have on Rory’s life? What about where the story is located in time? Could Girlchild be set in  the 1970s? In the 2010s?

2. Girlchild is told in short, and sometimes extremely short, chapters. How does this method serve to impact the story? How would it feel to stay with any of these  ssenes longer than we do? How would that change the overall impact of the novel?

3. There are many stories about Rory Dawn and the Hendrix family that combine in girlchild, including the social service report on the Hendrix family, Shirley Rose’s hopes for Rory’s future, Jo’s fears for Rory, the government’s position on Rory’s culture, and Roscoe Elementary and Junior High schools’ opinions of Rory’s academic gifts and adventures. Rory Dawn takes each of these for a spin. Why might she do this? What does she gain? Lose?

4. Vivian Buck is, perhaps, Rory Dawn’s only friend. Is Vivian real? Historical? Imaginary? All of the above? Do we have any reason to think that Vivian exists for other Calle residents? What does it say about Rory Dawn if Vivian doesn’t exist for others? Does it matter whether Vivian actually exists in real time on the Calle?

5. Dennis is a regular at the Truck Stop and he is one of the few nonvillainous Calle men whose life we see in detail, in the chapter “The Great Strain of Being.” What is the importance of Dennis for Rory Dawn? How does he reflect the trajectory of many of the Calle men; for example, Timmy, or Rory’s neighbor Marc?

6. Rory Dawn and Timmy have history together on the Calle brought by riding the shifting tide of babysitters. When it is announced that Rory Dawn is advancing to the  next level in the spelling bee, she loses her temper with Timmy, throwing his toy truck over the school fence. What other circumstances surround this act of  Rory’s, and what part of it leads her to turn against Timmy?

7. Jo, Rory Dawn’s mother, is a bartender, but this career wasn’t always her goal. What do we learn about Jo’s early aspirations and why they changed? Does she deserve a second chance? If she were given one, would she take it?

8. Rory Dawn is academically gifted, but instead of this being a boon, it increases her isolation, both from her peers and her mother. Does she find any refuge in this gift? What is the significance of Rory Dawn’s throwing the final round of the spelling bee? What does her choice in the misspelling of the word “outlier” (she spells it “outliar”) reveal about her feelings with regard to the stratification of her culture? What does it reveal about her place in it?
(Questions issued by Picador, the publisher.)

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