The girl who came out of the woods by Emily Barr

cover image

Penguin. 2019. ISBN: 9780241345221. pbk. 391 p.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: Dystopian. Arty was born in a small commune hidden in the forests of southern India. Her only knowledge of the outside world has come from the handful of adults and from old books. On the twentieth anniversary of the commune, Arty leaves the only home she's ever known. She doesn't want to. She intends to come back. A younger child Zeus, is the only person well enough to accompany her on a mercy dash beyond the woods, through the locked gate and past the foreboding 'Danger Radiation' sign. The noisy world, the bustle of modern day India, the toxic environment and rampant consumerism overwhelm her. Can she save the others, or will she be too late? Her contingency plan lies in her mother's instructions to find Persephone or Uncle Matthew in England. But the tragedy and Arty's unique upbringing make her a social media and mass media sensation - opening her eyes and ours to insatiable human appetites.
The story begins darkly as Arty grapples with exploitation and new friendships, celebrity and family secrets - but things turn darker as the narrator reconstructs the events that led her brave mother, Venus (Vicky), to reject civilization and to establish a better one in the Clearing.
Emily Barr has written her coming of age novel as a metaphor where a cloistered child confronts a complex modern world. Her protagonist is only able to navigate a cataclysmic tragedy, because of the perspective of her clan, particularly Venus, their matriarch. We see the greed and decay of the planet through fresh eyes and we are ashamed of our acceptance of a multitude of insane and inane behaviours. The author doesn't abandon us, because Arty can adapt, educate herself and carve out a life. Perhaps she can honour her mother's grand vision by adding her lived experience to the inevitable cinematic rendering planned by Bollywood - a fate likely to be shared by this novel, which has brought Arty to life.
Deborah Robins