The Hollow Girl – Hillary Monahan

Hillary Monahan, who is part-Romani and a sexual assault survivor, explores both topics in this wrenching but flawed novel. I really wanted to like it more than I did, but though I devoured it, I couldn’t give it more than three stars.

Bethan is a Welsh Romani girl who has been raised by a woman whom she believes to be unrelated to her. Her guardian is a witch in a world where magic is rare but real, and she wants Bethan to follow in her footsteps. Bethan is more concerned about dealing with her harasser, Silas, whose father is a leader who won’t accept that his son could do wrong. She’s also enjoying a budding friendship (or maybe something more) with diddicoy (part-Romani) farmboy Martyn, who is curious about her culture and helps her out at the market.

Things go seriously wrong when Silas attacks Martyn and Bethan, raping her and nearly killing her friend. Bethan turns to her grandmother’s arts to engage in a gruesome ritual to save Martyn and avenge herself on Silas and his accomplices. She deals with dissociation after the attack, and also has to consider whether or not she wants to continue along the path her grandmother set her on.

The ethics of the book are downright weird, with outright slavery in the form of a magical bond being condoned. The prose is also not at the level I hoped it would be. The setting is vague in terms of time–it seems to be in the past, but there aren’t a lot of clues as to when. Nevertheless, the characters sometimes use very modern language when discussing racism and other topics. And the grandmother character’s backstory somewhat unbalanced the book–I felt like it should have taken up either less space or more.

That said, it’s an interesting and readable book. Monahan brings her personal knowledge and experience to bear on two very important topics, and reading the book was certainly educational for me. But I feel like it had a lot of unrealized potential in terms of the writing.

The Walls Around Us – Nova Ren Suma

This post is going to be VERY SPOILERY.

I had an unusual reaction, compared to other readers, to the narrators of this book. Yeah, Violet, the driven ballerina who sends her best friend Orianna to jail for a double murder she committed, is unsympathetic as hell. But Amber, the gentler girl in juvie for killing her abusive stepdad? Is an even worse person than Violet. Amber murders literally everyone she knows rather than face a future of uncertainty. It’s Amber, not Violet, who is responsible for Orianna’s death.

And is Orianna as innocent as she seems? She gathered the poison Amber uses to kill the entire juvenile hall, although she may not have been aware of what Amber was planning. She’s much more implicated in Violet’s eventual death, which allows her Orianna to rejoin the world of the living. She doesn’t participate in her murder, but she lures her to the spot and digs the grave before Violet’s even there. That, to me, speaks to an (understandable) premeditation.

Justice may be done in some ways by Violet’s death and Orianna’s return, but Orianna too is tarnished by what happened to her because of Violet and by what she herself finally does about it. And as for Amber, though she may be a more conventionally sympathetic narrator than Violet, that just shows how messed up our ideas of sympathy are, how easily we are manipulated.

Anyway, a fine horror novel/ghost story.