Cover Image: The White Girl

The White Girl

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This is my first time reading about the government in the 1960s taking Indigenous children from their families with the thought that they could fare better with white families and not their own. This story is about a grandmother, Odette, who is raising her granddaughter, Sissy, in a fictional town of Deane. The new sheriff in town is fit to shaping up the "abos" since the former sheriff just let things go with a blind eye over the years. This story is so much more than the history of the tragedies of Indigenous people in the 60s, but more so about the love between a grandmother and granddaughter. They are so resilient, hardworking and with the love and their bond, nothing can rip them apart.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an early read in exchange for my honest review.
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In this novel set in Australia, an Aborigine woman seeks to protect her white-passing daughter from the white men of their small village. Ultimately, she takes the girl and runs to a larger city, where by chance she finds refugee with an Aborigine family. I wish this had been better: the subject matter is important and explores a part of Australia that many people don't know much about. But the characters are mostly flat, and the dialogue is too often unbelievable. There is an abrupt end to the main narrative, with many loose ends, and an awkward epilogue  makes the book even more unsatisfying to the reader.
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Thank you to the publisher HarperVia and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this wonderful novel.

'The White Girl' is a beautiful book about terrible times and centuries of cultural violence against the indigenous people of Australia. I'd recently bought and read Tara June Winch's 'The Yield' (which I now realize is also a HarperVia book) and was interested in reading more indigenous Australian fiction so was delighted to read the description of Tony Birch's 'The White Girl' on NetGalley and to have been approved for an ARC.

It's inevitable that many of the same themes and issues are touched upon in the two novels - many of the indigenous people have a shared experience with white Christian colonialism and subjugation - but they're set in different time periods and have a different narrative.

It's essentially a story of what someone will do out of pure love to protect someone from what's been, what is, and what could be. It's about those who would help, regardless of the risk to their own wellbeing - and in this story, those risks and outcomes were grave indeed - and those who participated willingly in the evil.

Tony Birch's writing is tight and clean and also very evocative. Sparsely cinematic. I could see, feel, and smell the scenes he described. I loved it.

Without giving anything away, I hope, this novel did not end in the way I expected it to. Not even close and that was a surprise and a relief. There was one element/character who remained unresolved, his storyline not tied up and I read that as an analogy for the racism and anti-indigenous sentiment and actions that remain unresolved in Australia.

This, as I said, is a beautiful book about a brutal time.
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I would actually rate this book 3.5 stars for me. The title and the blurb really drew me in, but it took a long time for the premise of the story to become apparent.  A story of an aboriginal grandmother and her granddaughter pushing through tides of bigotry, racism and oppression. I felt there could have been more tension between the characters to help the reader feel or at least understand the level of danger that was there and develop the story more.
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I love reading internationally and Australia is usually good for a terrifying outback adventure, but this is something completely different…a story that takes the readers back in time and presents life in the country from an Aboriginal perspective. 
    That alone should tell you it isn’t going to be a conventionally happy story or an easy read. Since historical events are the same world-over for people who recognize patterns, the living conditions of the Aboriginal people of Australia should surprise no one, for they strongly echo those of The First People in Canada or Native Americans in the US. The white men came and imposed they rule, the local natives were brutally forced into submission, assimilation, etc. Deprived of basic rights. Made second class citizens, at best. It’s horrific, deplorable and (for the misanthropes, at least) all too accurately representative of the ways of the world.
    In Australia in 1960/1961 when this novel takes place, The Aboriginal people were more or less at the mercy of the merciless state, subjugated, oppressed, and limited in many ways of life. This is a story of one such family, a grandmother, Odette, and her beloved twelve-year-old granddaughter, Sissy. Sissy’s mother never told anyone who Sissy’s father was, she had her daughter young and then took off. Whoever he was, he was obviously a white man, so the girl grew up blonde and with fair enough of a complexion to pass for a titular white girl. It is this crucial fact that allows Odette to make a desperate play for freedom from under the thumb of the fascist-like new local police officer and, pretending to be her grandchild’s nanny, take them both to the city, to try to find a happier fate.
      This might be the first story I’ve read told from an Aboriginal perspective and it was as emotionally devastating, engaging and poignant as a story like that ought to be. Such a great character driven drama with such likable, strong, compelling characters. A quiet story in a way, but one that really draws you in and makes for an excellent read. Recommended. Thanks Netgalley.
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A heart wrenching and at times a beautifully written heart warming story..  I found it to be very readable and informative about the plight of the Aboriginal people in the 1960's  Highly recommend this book.
Thank you NetGalley and the publisher for the ebook .
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This is a coming of age novel, but possibly unlike any that you may have read in the past. It is set in Australia during a time when Aborigines were placed on reservations. This is was to allow the "white man" to oversee the needs of the Aboriginal people. Legally unable to travel without permission from local law enforcement, living on reservations where the children were separated from their families except one day a week and having no basic rights are things that I was unaware of. For me, the story itself is not the driving force of the novel, but I could not put the book down because of all the history. Thank you to NetGalley for the e-book ARC in exchange for an honest review. I give it 4 stars because the historical aspect of this book is outstanding.
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Book Review: The White Girl
Author: Tony Birch
Publisher: HarperVia
Publication Date: March 15, 2022
Review Date: September 23, 2021

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

From the blurb;
“Australia’s leading indigenous storyteller makes his American debut with this immersive and deeply resonant novel, set in the 1960s, that explores the lengths we’ll go to save the people we love—an unforgettable story of one native Australian family and the racist government that threatens to separate them.
Odette Brown has lived her entire life on the fringes of Deane, a small Australian country town. Dark secrets simmer beneath the surface of Deane—secrets that could explain why Odette's daughter, Lila, left her one-year-old daughter, Sissy, and never came back, or why Sissy has white skin when her family is Aboriginal. 

For thirteen years, Odette has quietly raised her granddaughter without drawing notice from welfare authorities who remove fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. But the arrival of a new policeman with cruel eyes and a rigid by-the-book attitude throws the Brown women's lives off-kilter. It will take all of Odette's courage and cunning to save Sissy from the authorities, and maybe even lead her to find her daughter. 

Bolstered by love, smarts, and the strength of their ancestors, Odette and Sissy are an indomitable force, handling threats to their family and their own identities with grace and ingenuity, while never losing hope for themselves and their future.

In The White Girl, Miles Franklin Award-nominated author Tony Birch illuminates Australia’s devastating post-colonial past—notably the government’s racist policy of separating Indigenous children from their families, known today as the Stolen Generations—and introduces a tight-knit group of charming, inspiring characters who remind us of our shared humanity, and that kindness, hope, and love have no limits.”
———
Fantastic, complex novel. First class writing; deep characters, interesting plot, great social commentary. 

As an American reading about Australia, I had to frequently turn to Google to understand much of the vocabulary. I highly recommend this book, both for the subject matter, and the quality of writing. 

Thank you HarperVia for giving me access to this wonderful novel and best of luck to Mr. Birch in his continued literary career. 

This review will be posted on NetGalley and Goodreads. 

#netgalley #thewhitegirl #tonybirch #harpervia #australia #aboriginealculture
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