Many thanks to the author’s publicist and to the author for sending and signing a review copy of Girls I Know. This book was one brought out on the evening of our book club and one of the women attending immediately picked it up and said “ooh, I like the look and feel of this book!” Although it wasn’t the title chosen for our book club, it was the book I picked up immediately following that meeting.
Books, Personally wrote a very poignant review of Girls I Know, and captured a great deal of the book’s “essence” if you will. You can read that review here. She also interviewed Prof. Trevor and those Q & A’s can be found here. I didn’t read the Q&A’s because I had not finished the book at that point and I didn’t want any potential spoilers to change how or what I was reading. I will go back now and read through his answers because Girls I Know was a really very good read! There is a lot of heart and feeling between the pages of Girls I Know. It also holds one of the best, young female characters ever. Mercedes will be a girl that definitely makes it to the tippy top of my favourite female characters read in 2013.
Girls I Know is broken down in to two parts, or two voices actually, not really “parts”: it is voiced through Walt and Mercedes.
Walt Steadman opens the story and we hear of his meandering, lost, unfocussed life he leads since dropping out of (Harvard) graduate school. Walt holds various odd jobs that include sperm donation and superintendent of the building he occupies. He’s not a very good superintendent, nor is he a very put together person. He’s been studying poetry and poetry is indeed Walt’s greatest love. Certainly, Girls I Know expresses great love, appreciation and deep respect for poetry, and in this story, of its ability to heal ones hurt and damaged soul.
Every single morning, Walt crosses to the other side of Boston, to Jamaica Plain, to eat breakfast, often his only meal of the day, with the most important people in his life at this time. John and Natalie Bittles own and operate the Early Bird Café, Mercedes is their daughter and Flora is the waitress. Flora at first shyly greets Walt but over time develops a teasing and tentative relationship with him. Walt struggles with his feelings for Flora, just as he struggles to nail down his purpose in life. There is one other girl in Walt’s life and she is Ginger. Ginger busts into Walt’s life with her constant and frenetic activity and is writing a book entitled, “Girls I Know”. She interviews girls about what they do, why they do what they do and it’s underlying theme is something that changes on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.
Mercedes is the very quiet, 11-year-old and reserved daughter of John and Natalie Bittles. She is often found sitting behind the counter at the Early Bird Café, sketching but always glaring at Walt with her barely contained displeasure in what she views as his daily intrusion in to their lives. The one fateful morning when her parents and Flora are shot and killed inside the Early Bird Café is the day she was at dentist appointment with her Grandmamma. Walt is the only survivor of this horrifying day.
Following the deaths of his beloved adopted family, Walt continues to spiral into a world of despair and uncertainty. He becomes resolutely determined to form a relationship with Mercedes and struggles to define his relationship and feelings with Ginger. He set about to tutor Mercedes, but also presents her with the gift of poetry. He does this as this was his intention for Flora and he has forever lost her. So much in Girls I Know demonstrates the beauty and emotion found in poetry. In time, Mercedes embraces the weekly sessions with Walt because of the poetry. It offers her great solace and calm. Oh how I loved Mercedes’ voice and perspective in this story. She had such a beautiful but very sad voice. Oh, what a heartbreaking perspective.
Mr. Steadman opened up the book and began to read the poem very slowly. He read through it once, paused, then read it again. The words made her heart go up into her throat. There was a little calf in the poem. The calf was standing next to its mother. Mercedes told herself she was the calf. She saw herself standing next to her momma. She felt her momma in the poem, reaching out to her, touching her. She felt her heart in her thorat and the water come up behind her eyes.
Throughout the story Ginger’s viewpoint or her work on Girls I Know is also given. She is determined to show an exploration into good vs. evil and is based upon the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.
Ginger would imagine herself asking Thomas Aquinas for clarification of his views on the existence of evil: (Aquinas) So what I argue is that everything in the cosmos, including evil, is part of God’s design, even if he didn’t create evil.
(Ginger) But what about the person who is a victim of evil? What about the child who loses her parents? What about the waitress who is shot to death at work? Good comes from that?
And Aquinas, sighing, would fold his hands in his lap. “Of course it does, Ginger. If you were to submerge yourself in the space that evil occupies, you would see that good in fact does come from evil, and that evil exists only dependently on the choices that humans make.”
Ginger herself becomes a victim of violence and together, all three must overcome and move forward. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship that blossomed between Mercedes and Walt and I even liked the ending Trevor wrote for Ginger and Walt. Girls I Know has been quoted as being a poem written to Boston, yet I saw this wonderful and very heartwarming read as more of an ode to the beauty and emotion of poetry. Either way you may view it, I’m certain you will view it with the warmth and enjoyment I experienced when reading. 4 stars.