Saturday, December 03, 2016

Girls Like Us

Girls Like Us
by Gail Giles

Candlewick; Reprint edition (October 13, 2015)
Grade 8 and up

[Note: The book is aimed at high school and teenage readers, and so is this review. Some abuse situations are violent and graphic in the book.]

Author Ms. Giles taught Remedial Reading for high school kids, some of whom were Special Ed students, for twenty years before she finally decided to tell their stories. Being a special ed teacher can't be easy - filled with moments of pain and struggle, but also stories of courage and achievement - and through all this, Ms. Giles has brought to us two unforgettable characters, Biddy and Quincy, for whom we root hard right from the start, especially because they got a bad start in their lives through no fault of their own.

Quincy and Biddy refer to themselves as "speddies" and talk about their situation matter-of-fact-ly, even though they have every right to be resentful and seething with anger. "The one thing all us Speddies can tell you is what kind of retard we are. Ms. Evans gets wadded in a knot if anybody say retarded. We be differently-abled. We be mentally-challenged, she say."

Quincy's real name is Sequencia who was unfortunate enough to be born to a "crack ho" Mama whose boyfriend picked up a brick and hit Quincy on the side of her head when she was six. From a bright sweet six year old, Quincy is disfigured and brain-damaged with the rest of her life to pay for the abuse she suffered. "My face looks like somebody put both hands on it and push up on one side and pull down on the other.... and the doctor say that I got brain damage from that brick."

Biddy's mama showed up at Granny's one day, asking to stay the night. The next morning mama was gone and Biddy was stuck with Granny who resented her from the start. Turns out Biddy didn't get enough oxygen at birth and that caused moderate retardation.

"My name is Biddy. Some call me other names. Granny call me Retard. Quincy call me White Trash... Most kids call me Speddie. That's short for Special Education. I can't write or read. A little bit. But not good enough to matter."

I might end up quoting the whole book! Each statement, each word is there because it needs to be, and not a single wasted unnecessary word. Such terse writing packed with such power and depth of emotion is a gift to behold.

"My grandma was white and my grandpa black. My mama has pretty light skin. My daddy was white and Mexican and he had green eyes." 

Biddy scrunch her eyebrows up a little tighter. "Don't that make you mostly white?"

I hee-hawed then. "Girlfriend, in this part of Texas, if you a little bit black, you all black."

The story is told alternately from Biddy's and Quincy's voice which are distinct and powerful and heart-wrenching and hopeful and courageous at the same time. They are both graduating from high school in the special ed program and now will be placed in suitable situations where they can remain fairly independent and manage lives on their own. Understandably, neither is looking forward to be thrown out into the real world.

Biddy and Quincy are teamed up and placed with an elderly lady who needs live-in help for cooking, cleaning and helping her with her daily life. Slowly but surely, Biddy uses her talent and preference for cleaning everything spotless, while Quincy uses her cooking skills learnt from her foster dad a few years ago. When Biddy tries to help Quincy through her crisis - of being raped and beaten - she effortlessly slides in the book's title:

I hated to make her sad again. But I had to. "Quincy, you're right. But other peoples won't believe it. Police or nobody else care what happen to girls like us."

The sexual abuse as well as the physical abuse Quincy and Biddy endure is heart-wrenching and inexcusable. To think that our society is capable of treating fellow beings so cruelly and turning the other way when they need some support, is not only horrifying but alarming.

Ultimately, it ends with hope and we let out a sigh of relief knowing Quincy and Biddy will be all right somehow.

This is a book I will not easily forget.

[image source: Gail Giles website]

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