Review Blog

May 30 2018

Stone Girl by Eleni Hale

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Penguin, 2018. ISBN 9780143785613
(Age: Young Adult) Themes: Homelessness, Institutional Care, substance dependence, abusive relationships, death. When Sophie's mum got drunk or took drugs 12 year old Sophie cleaned up the mess and kept them fed. She learned never to trust authority figures who wanted to interfere. Sophie liked to do well at school and have friends with 'normal' families so when her mum's new boyfriend came over to party Sophie went out to her friend's place. When she got back her mum was alone and dead. Sophie not only blamed herself for the death but was so scared of authority that she stayed three days with the body until the police broke down the door. The story opens at the police station waiting for a social worker to come to take Sophie into emergency housing. Sophie's father who lives in Greece can't be contacted so she becomes a ward of the State. Naomi, her caseworker is kind and compassionate, Sophie wants to go home with her and feel safe but instead she is left to negotiate a share house along with her grief, guilt and questions about her mother. She is hopeful that her father will come and rescue her but when they get in touch he won't accept responsibility. When she goes back to school she is treated as a freak, the newspapers have sensationalised the finding of the three day old dead body with Sophie by her side so she stops going to school.
The rest of the confronting story is the spiralling downhill trajectory of Sophie's life over the next few years in multiple state care facilities each with new and unpredictable inmates. Overworked caseworkers and Sophie's innate distrust of authority leave her without emotional support. No one seems to care if she goes to school or not, or what she is doing outside the facility but she is a quick learner and soon fits in with the other "problem" kids, stealing, risking death, contemplating suicide, entering an abusive relationship, and we begin to understand how they can reach a place where there are no constraints. "If no one owes us kids anything why would we owe anything back?' p102. This is not an easy story to read, dealing with death, poverty, substance and sexual abuse; an insight into the lives of vulnerable children whose needs are not met by the institutions set up to look after them. Told in the first person the author has to negotiate the development of the voice of the main character from deprived 12 to a street wise 16 year old and it can be difficult to relate to Sophie's voice. After years of struggle Sophie does make the choice to turn her life around but we are so shell shocked by the dark and dangerous places she has been that she seems just a shadow. This book has been called "important" and it shines a light into some hidden lives but it is a harrowing and morally confusing story which needs some maturity from its readers. Young adults seem to love it but some caution is needed before putting it on the shelves.
Sue Speck

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