Cover Image: The White Girl

The White Girl

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Birch's historical fiction novel is set in the 1960's in Australia and covers a period of time during which Australia instituted the Aboriginal Protection Act, dividing Aboriginal families and denying citizenship to the very people of the land. It follows a grandmother and her granddaughter and explores their relationship with the local police and residents, both of white and Aboriginal descent. I learned a great deal in the reading of this novel - about the history of Australia and about Aboriginal culture. If the measure of a book is how connected you are to the characters and the strength of the feelings they elicit in you, this book hits the mark. I felt passionately about nearly every character introduced. Following the reading of this novel, I did look a bit into the author to learn more about his other novels and to see if there were interviews related to this book so I could hopefully learn more and was pleased to discover that this was an Own Voices novel as well. I can't wait to read more of Birch's works.
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The White Girl is an interesting look into Australian history. It is a glaring look into the racial history between whites and aboriginals told as an engaging novel.  The writing is swift and draws you in quickly.  Overall a beautiful book.
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This book does a wonderful job exposing racism in Australia. I felt emotionally drawn to the characters and what they were going through. The juxtaposition between the racism they experienced in the country vs. the city was interesting. Though, I do not think it was true that the racism they experienced in the countryside would feel like such a far-off place while in the city. The city scenes almost made it seem like they time traveled to a new place where racism no longer exists and they have a ton of allies helping them. I do not think that is accurate. Racism still exists in the city. It just might not be as obvious. In some cases, it can be worse because it is hidden. 

The ending felt too neatly tied up. The story went from having everything that could go wrong, go wrong, to everything working out magically in the city. I was happy that they escaped the place they lived, but I did not feel like their experience in the city was accurate to what people who have been in that exact situation have experienced.
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Historically, it seems that everywhere there are white people and brown people the white people have intentionally and legally acted to separate the families of the brown people. Occasionally (but not always) the white people will apologize for that, centuries or decades later. In the case of Australia, the Aboriginal Protection Act deprived Aboriginals of all rights. They were not citizens of the country in which they were born. For example, children were removed from families, people were sorted by color, Aboriginals were told where they could live and work, they were forbidden from going to white towns except on specified days and they couldn’t travel without permission. The whites didn’t seem to see the irony in the word “protection”. 

This book is the story of Odette who is raising her granddaughter Sissy, a light skinned and blond 12 year old. The local police officer has mostly left them alone, but he is now being forced out of his job and the new Sargeant Lowe relishes the idea of enforcing the law and properly sorting out the local Aboriginals.  Odette fears that Sissy will be taken from her, and Sissy also faces other threats.

 I didn’t look at the author’s biography before I read the book, but it felt like it was written by an indigenous woman, not a white man. Odette’s relationships with the bullying, violent Kane family and with Henry, a mentally disabled childhood friend, were very well portrayed. All of the characters felt real, including the Aboriginals who help and protect Odette and Sissy. The horrible treatment of the Aboriginals was woven into the story organically, without melodrama. In some books that mistreatment is the whole story and the book turns into suffering porn. That is not the case here. It is a story of an extremely loving relationship and a very resilient woman. 

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.
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4.5 stars
  Amid the onslaught of multi-narrator, time-jumping, gimmick-laden novels, it is so lovely to find a gently paced single narrative. In The White Girl, Birch allows the engagement with the characters and reader’s investment to develop gradually. He does a superb job of building the tension with each episode, and I was kept in suspense regarding the outcome until the end.
  Both the characters and the theme are well-worth the time spent with them, and I look forward to exploring more of Birch’s work. Thank you to the author, HarperVia, and NetGalley for an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.
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Interesting setting (Australia), yet a story of racism and abuse of power that would likely ring true for many indigenous people.  This story focuses on a grandmother raising her granddaughter (who is biracial) and her desire to protect her and keep her safe from officials who seek to remove children who are partially white.  It is a bit slow moving, but the pace still feels appropriate.  I loved these deeply developed characters.  The ending felt a little abrupt to me, but was nonetheless satisfying.  Thank you NetGalley and publishers for providing a digital ARC for review.
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Set in the 1960’s in a small fictional Australian town. Odette Brown is an aborigine woman taking care of her 13 year old granddaughter Sissy. Odette, knows under the law her county and status, Sissy could be taken at any given time. When a new cop comes into town, she realizes she is in even more danger of losing Sissy.

Odette is also in pain and after major reluctance she goes to the doctor and finds out she has a tumor, probably benign, but it needs to be removed. However, before she goes into surgery, she needs to ensure Sissy has proper care.

This sets up Odette and Sissy to leave their town against the will of the newest cop, but with permission of the outgoing cop before he retires. They go in search to find Sissy’s mother, but so much more occurs.

This was a lovely, gentle story that takes on the topic of racism with such care. Birch brought to light a time in history in a country that I had not known about. Odette is like any loving family member and just wanted to do what is best for Sissy, and that was for them to stay together.

Thank you NetGalley and HarperVia for an Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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"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."
The author writes with an unmatched authenticity of a lifetime of residency in Australia.
The author is not afraid to lay the truth on the line in "The White Girl" . Though fiction, it is based on Australia's not to distant past when the government had a racist policy of separating Indigenous children from their family. Today we know this as Stolen Generations.
The story focuses on one family, a grandmother who has raised her granddaughter after her mother disappears. We can feel the strength,courage and love these women have.
These characters will inspire us to be strong and remind us a little kindness goes a long way.
Highly recommended!

Pub Date 15 Mar 2022
I was given a complimentary copy of this book.
All opinions expressed are my own.
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Odette Brown is raising her granddaughter, Sissy in a small, rural Australian town that has lost many of its Aboriginal residents. It is sometime in the 1960s. Sissy turns 13 early in this story, receiving her first bike as a gift, cobbled together by Henry, the white guy at the junkyard who had some intellectual disabilities because of an accident in childhood. Other white kids bullied Henry so he made friends with Aboriginal kids. As an adult, he is still mercilessly bullied by the Kane brothers. Odette's daughter Lila as a young teenager, did not tell her she was pregnant, and she never identified the white father. When Sissy turned one, Lila left them. In 1960s Australia, government programs were still formally in place to involuntarily remove many Aboriginal children from their families, particularly those who were mixed race. The goal was assimilation and much has been written about this in recent years. Every Aboriginal child was born a ward of the state and remained so to age 18. The government monitored families through assigned protectors, in this novel, the local police chief. Children could never travel beyond a certain area, even with family. Adults needed travel permits. 

A new guy is taking over from Bill Shea, the alcoholic chief who has generally let everyone live and let live and the new guy takes his role as being in charge of the aboriginal children in town very seriously. Just as Odette finds that her guardianship of Sissy could be threatened by the new chief, Sissy attracts the attention of the Kane brothers. Birch writes a compelling/heartwarming story about family, a girl and her Nan, who are so close and it is obvious to the reader they belong together. He also writes a story of horrific government policies that affected generations of Aboriginals, through stories of various characters we meet or hear about. A mother whose two daughters had fair skin and red hair loses them to the mission school far away and the pain is palpable.. A man who got an exemption certificate that lets him travel freely but this means he may not interact with other Aboriginal people. The new chief's descriptions of his legal power over Sissy's and can do what he likes about her future. The stories of activists seeking citizenship, repeal of destructive laws and new rights. A hotel receptionist who is a bit too interested in the black woman traveling with a young white girl. Henry. The Kane brothers. Each with a back story and history of very different interactions with the Aboriginal community. Birch, who is indigenous  to Australia makes this story accessible without watering down the history. It is a fast, educational, engaging and moving read. Highly recommend.
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3.5 stars

I enjoyed reading this story and getting some insight into the government’s racist treatment of native Australians in the 1960s.

Odette Brown has lived her entire life in the small Australian town of Deane. When her daughter Lila runs off, leaving behind her one-year-old daughter, Odette is left to protect Sissy from the attention of welfare authorities. She managed to go unnoticed for thirteen years, but with a new policeman in town, he threatens to tear families apart by removing fair-skinned Aboriginals children. Odette’s love for her grand-daughter knows no bounds, and she is determined to keep their family together no matter how high the stakes.

While I did enjoy the idea behind this book and learning about some of Australia’s history that was previously unknown to me, I felt like there wasn’t enough meat to the story. It was a pretty cut and dried plot, and you didn’t really have to read to much into it. I just wish there had been a bit more to the story.

Regardless, I still recommend this book.
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This was just ok. The writing kept up a decent pace but I felt like the story could have been fleshed out a bit more. It was strange once again to have all the characters speaking without contractions, very unnatural. Historically this is a good subject to touch on to make sure people are aware of what happened, and in some cases sadly continues to happen.
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I have to confess that as an American I do not have a lot of knowledge of how indigoneous peopled have been treated in other countries, but I was struck by some of the similarities between this fictional Australian story and other accounts I've read that are United States and Canada based.  I suppose it makes sense as both Australia and the U.S. were claimed and forcibly settled by western Europeans. 

This story was relatable and the writing immediately endeared me to the main character, Odette.  It was a quick read but in the less-than-300 pages, we get to see how the Aboriginal and Caucasian people in the small town of Deane live alongside (and mostly tolerate) one another until a newcomer comes to town (although the living conditions and opportunities were far from equitable). We see a glimpse of how Odette continues to practice and respect her people's beliefs in secret. And  we witness her dwelling on memories of living at the old government-sponsored mission as a child, where she pretended to be a convert to Christianity, and witnessed the separation of families including her own and the deaths of many of her people. Despite this dark past, Odette loves and cares for her granddaughter fiercely. 

This is a beautiful story and a quick read. I would rate it ⭐⭐⭐⭐ stars simply because I wish there was more.
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An incredibly heart wrenching, but powerful story that needs to be told.

You know, I struggle when I read about terrible things that have happened in the past when it comes to my own country of America, but its a sad reminder to know that these things that cover our history in red, have happened all over the world. 

I think the one thing I can take away from this book, is love is universal. Odette loves her granddaughter Sissy. So much so, that she puts her own medical needs on the back burner to make sure Sissy is safe. So many things could have gone wrong. Over and over again I held my breath as the characters in this story teeter on the precipice of those invisible chains many people of color were forced to endure, but they endured.

Tony Birch as put together a powerful tale of perseverance through hardship, and as hard as it was to read, it was beautiful.
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Set in the early 1960s, Tony Birch’s The White Girl gives American readers a story that is all too familiar yet largely unfamiliar.  We Americans interested in our own history are painfully familiar with the forced removal of Native American children from their families to schools where their hair was cut, they were forbidden to speak their tribal languages, and they were forced to dress like white children and indoctrinated with white man’s religion and lifestyle.  Few of us know much about Australian history beyond England’s transportation of shiploads of criminals and poor. The little I knew before reading Birch’s novel came from viewing an Australian film nearly two decades ago, The Rabbit-Proof Fence, based on Doris Pilkington Garimara’s novel, Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence.

Tony Birch tells the story of Odette Brown, an Aboriginal grandmother fearing for the safety of her granddaughter Sissy, so light-skinned she could pass for white and now at risk of being stolen away by a recently arrived local policeman determined to know everything about the Aboriginal population in his town and to exert his authority over the “welfare” of aboriginal children. 

Odetta’s life becomes increasingly complicated as a mysterious pain begins in her side, gradually worsening.  Afraid for her own future and her granddaughter’s, Odetta must search for her long-missing daughter in hopes of securing Sissy’s safety.  To do so, Odetta and Sissy must disobey laws restricting travel of Indigenous people not yet considered citizens.

With a cast of characters that threaten danger or unexpectedly come to Odetta and Sissy’s aid, The White Girl is both heart-breaking and heart-warming.

In his Author’s Note, Birch explains his goal:  “What I do hope for with this novel, is that the love and bravery conveyed by Odette and Sissy provides some understanding of the tenacity and love within the hearts of those who suffered the theft of their own blood.  I dedicate The White Girl to both those who found their way home, and tragically, to the many who did not.” 

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperVia/Harper Collins for an advance reader copy of this fact-paced and highly recommended sociological novel.
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A heavy subject matter related to the history of Australia and the treatment of aboriginal people. It's a thrilling read that is hard to put down, so I enjoyed this one!
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Quarrytown and Deane are separated physically by a road called Deane’s Line. They’re separated even further by history, prejudice, and laws that keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at the bottom of the social and legal ladders. When we meet protagonist Odette Brown and her granddaughter, Sissy, at the beginning of The White Girl, by Tony Birch, they—and all people of Aboriginal heritage—are not citizens. They’re wards of the state, which means that the government and law enforcement can do almost anything with them as long as it’s “in their best interests.” Odette lives in fear of the day when the authorities decide that they need to take Sissy away from her.

Similar to actions by the governments in the United States and Canada, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were taken away to missions to be civilized or adopted out to white families. Today, these children are known as the Stolen Generations. Odette was one of these children, for a time, although she did get to live with her father for a while. Through her memories, we learn just a small bit of what it was like to be stripped not only of her family ties, but also her traditional culture and faith and language. When we meet her, Odette lives in Quarrytown in the house that her father built before his death. Sissy is the only member of her family she has left. It’s a spartan life, but they’re both doing just fine…until a new police officer shows up to take over from the soon-to-retire old sargeant, who doesn’t mind what anyone does as long as it doesn’t interfere with his drinking.

This new officer is determined to put everything to rights (as he defines them) as soon as he arrives in town, which includes a census of Aboriginal people, and definitely not going to wrangle the increasingly violent Kane family (they’re white). His interest in her little family sends Odette into a frenzy. It doesn’t help that Odette is also experiencing severe abdominal pain and the nearest hospital that can help is much too far away from Sissy for Odette’s comfort. The tension ratchets up as the new cop threatens to interfere with the small Brown family and blatantly ignore actual crimes happening in Deane and Quarrytown.

I was fascinated by Odette’s story—especially the parts of her heritage she was able to hold onto—and the stories of the other Aboriginal people she meets along her path. She is surrounded by injustice and, until she finds people inside the government who are willing to help, there’s very little she can do to change the status quo. When that happens, we’re left to wonder why it couldn’t be that simple (relatively) for everyone to claim their natural and legal rights.
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Tony Birch has a way of writing about oppression and trauma in a way that doesn’t feel too dark or heavy. In this book, he tells the story of Odette (an Aboriginal woman) and Sissy (her white-passing granddaughter) in a way that allows the reader a glimpse into life in rural Australia during the 1960s, when indigenous families were ripped apart under the guise of so-called protection.

This story examines the regulations from multiple perspectives, as well as the everyday fallout that happened because of them. It explores human interaction, power struggles, the conflict of honesty vs. survival, the want to fit in, resilience, the fear of “other,” and the lengths one will go to in order to protect family. The book is beautiful, unsettling, informative, and tender.

The only real criticism I really have is that the end came quite suddenly, and I would have loved a more detailed wrap up, especially concerning a character who I would have loved to know on what terms they left this family’s story.
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I received this from

Set in the 1960's Australia, "Odette has quietly raised her granddaughter without drawing notice from welfare authorities who remove fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families."

An interesting read for the Australian history.

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A moving and important story of an Aboriginal woman. Not overly sentimental, but loving story of a woman trying to do her best raising her abandoned grand child. Highlights some of the ways white colonizers mistreated native Austrailians in the last century.
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The White Girl by Tony Birch is a beautiful story about one strong woman’s desire to protect her granddaughter and make a better life for her. 

This is a look into the oppressive practice of the Australian government in removing Aboriginal children from their families in order to “protect” them back in the 1960s. In this story, we follow one woman in her efforts to keep her thirteen-year-old granddaughter from the clutches of the Government.  

Odette Brown lives with her granddaughter, Sissy in a small country town.  Set in the early 1960s, Odette knows that Sissy, with her fair skin, may be targeted by the welfare authorities for removal to a “better” home.  So far, she’s managed to evade the authorities, but when a new lawman moves into town, she knows she has to do something to keep Sissy safe.  

This short novel is written in a very straightforward way and was easy to read, but also emotional too.  I enjoyed the simplistic writing style and was instantly immersed in the story.  After reading this story, I still don’t know much about Odetter or Sissy, but I do know a lot about the practices of the Government during this time period and how affected the lives of Odette and Sissy, and I believe this is the point the author was trying to make.  

Although an emotional story, I felt like the author was able to highlight the horrors of the Federal Aboriginal Protection Act and the ramifications this act had on the Aboriginal people, without being too dramatic.  He does this by writing about a strong, inspirational woman who defies the welfare officials and tells her story in a very matter-of-fact way.  

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves literary fiction. I received a complimentary copy of this book.  The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
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