cover image The White Girl

The White Girl

Tony Birch. HarperVia, $17.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-321353-1

Australian writer Birch makes his U.S. debut with a sad yet heartening tale of cruelty and prejudice against Indigenous people. In the harsh landscape of 1960s Australia, Aboriginal people are denied citizenship and placed under the legal guardianship of a local protector. Odette Brown, who is Aboriginal, has been raising her 12-year-old granddaughter, Sissy, in the government district of Deane, to stop Sissy from being taken by the authorities. In chapters conveying flashbacks as well as current tensions, Birch implies that Sissy’s mother, Lila, who abandoned Sissy a year after giving birth, was raped by Sissy’s father, a white man named Joe Kane. Odette’s life takes a dramatic turn when she must undergo an operation in the capital, where Lila lives. She gets permission from the sheriff to travel, but doesn’t want to leave Sissy behind out of fear she’ll be taken by the brutal Kane family. So she makes the risky choice to disguise Sissy as a “white girl” after determining that it’s their only way out, and leaves with Sissy to find Lila and check into the hospital. With a brisk pace and lush prose, Birch breathes life into Odette’s wrenching and courageous search for her daughter and the hope of a better life for Sissy. Readers will feel the pull of this harrowing story. (Mar.)