Sunday, April 5, 2015

That Girl

Without planning to do so I've happened to read five books which had the word "girl" in their titles over the past three months. What is it about that word "girl" that makes it so attractive in the name of a book? Partly it's the sound of the word: "Gone Woman" just doesn't have the same ring to it as "Gone Girl"; but for some titles the word "woman" might do just as well. A book called "The Woman with the Dragon Tattoo" could sound pretty interesting too.

By calling a book's heroine a girl what is the author saying? Is the character not quite mature yet, maybe a little less deserving of our respect than a grown woman? Or is the author letting us know she's someone people tend to underestimate? Think of  Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, or the twistedly deceptive Amazing Amy of Gone Girl. Neither is a little girl, but both are women who have a lot going on behind the girlish face that others see. The protagonists of my recent "girl" books all share this quality -they are much more than they seem.

The Girl on the Train is a gripping psychological thriller which cleverly reveals the events of a young woman's disappearance through the voices of three women. Rachel, the "girl" of the title, rides the train into London every day and imagines the happy lives of the people living in the houses she passes, especially the ones on the street where she used to live and where her ex-husband still lives with his new family. One day one of those seemingly happy women disappears and Rachel becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to her. She thinks she may have seen something connected with the disappearance but was she was so intoxicated she can't remember. We follow Rachel's bumbling attempts to insert herself into the drama alternating with chapters told from the victim Megan's perspective from several months earlier, and then later we also hear the voice of the woman who has replaced Rachel in her husband's life, Anna. Author Paula Hawkins keeps the reader guessing and on edge because we're never sure which character's version of events to trust. Rachel emerges as not particularly likeable but very real, and certainly one of those girls who has been underestimated. If you liked Gone Girl, you'll enjoy this book a lot.

I'm generally a little scared of stories about zombies, but when a few people recommended M.R. Carey's The Girl with all the Gifts I thought I'd try it. It ended up as one of my favourite books of 2014. The story is original, highly suspenseful, and smart; it is peopled with vibrant and authentic characters. In a post-apocalyptic near future most of humanity has been wiped out by a deadly disease. Melanie is a highly intelligent ten year old girl who has spent most of her life in a small underground military base. She and several other children are kept there under physical restraint as if they were dangerous criminals. All she knows about the world is what she's learned from her teachers; occasionally one of her classmates is taken away by the base scientist never to return. When a series of catastrophic events happen and Melanie is propelled into the world above we slowly learn the truth about who she is as she and a small group of survivors attempt to escape threats from both outside and inside their group. The results are absolutely riveting.

Maybe you don't like suspense so much -that's okay, there's a girl book out there for you too. Try Anita Diamant's 2014 book The Boston Girl . In this novel eighty-five year old Addie Baum recalls her youth as the daughter of Jewish Russian immigrants who settled in Boston in the early twentieth century. Diamant's style allows for lots of humour as well as heartache as Addie struggles to find her identity through the tumultuous era of the first world war, the influenza epidemic of 1918, and the 1920s when a girl had to fight for an education and the right to work.

For more "That Girl" titles drop by our display this week on the fifth floor of the Halifax Central Library.

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