Monday, June 22, 2020

Brave Girl, Quiet Girl by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I started whispering in her ear, but so quiet I wasn’t sure she could even hear me. It was more like making the words with my lips against her ear, but then just this tiny breath of air that was the sound.

I said, “Brave girl, quiet girl.”

She said it back to me, just as quiet, which really surprised me. She stopped her run-up to that big cry and whispered back to me, “Brave girl, kiet girl,” right in my ear. She didn’t really get the kw sound in quiet—I think she was too young to have gotten the hang of that sound--but anyway I knew what she meant so what difference did it make?

Catherine Ryan Hyde’s 2020 novel, Brave Girl, Quiet Girl, begins with a violent car-jacking. Brooke, a divorced single mom is driving her mother’s  expensive Mercedes with her two year old daughter, Etta, strapped into her car-seat in the back, but she is dragged from the car by the thief, and watches helplessly as the car drives off with her daughter still strapped in.

This occurs in the first few pages of this frightening and yet lovely book about Brooke, Etta, and Molly, a sixteen-year-old homeless girl.  Molly is with her also homeless male friend late at night when she spots Etta, still strapped in her car-seat on the sidewalk. With no phone, no money, and no idea how Etta got there, Molly is faced with the daunting challenge of returning the little girl to her family.

I have sometimes put aside one of Hyde’s many novels because it seems just too sentimental, too sweet, too full of pathos. And this novel is certainly high on the pathos scale, and yet it captured me early on, gripped me, and I just could not stop reading it until I was finished.

Molly is homeless and on the streets because she has been tossed out of her home in St. George Utah and told not to return unless, and until, she has shed the devil that she has brought into her family home. Molly, under pressure from her girlfriend, had decided to come out to her mother, and that is what her mother labels bringing the devil into the home.

I won’t divulge much of the story here, but I will tell you that the reader is kept on tenterhooks during the early phases as Molly tries to care for little Etta and to hide her away from other street youths who intend to grab her from Molly and hold her for ransom. Molly had helped raise her two younger sisters, and so is a competent and loving caretaker, but with no funds for food or diapers for the toddler. 

After several very frightening events, Molly is finally able to race after a police car with Etta holding on for dear life, and thus begins the reuniting of Etta with her mother Brooke. Initially, Brooke is angry with the young girl, not understanding why she did not alert the police earlier or find a way to call Etta’s mother in spite of the fact that there is an amber alert out for her. The rest of the novel is devoted to the interactions of mother and daughter and the intervention of a sympathetic female police officer who firmly but gently leads Brooke into a better understanding of Molly’s heroic actions in saving Etta. 

Although Brooke, herself, has a very troubled relationship with her own mother, she assumes that Molly must have done something horrible or unlawful to have provoked her mother in to forcing her from the home. She decides to drive from California to St. George to confront Molly’s mother, and to, hopefully, get Molly back into her family home. 

When Brooke finally confronts Molly’s mother and learns of her super-fundamentalist religious beliefs that treat homosexuality as a dreadful sin and a chosen life-style that can be discarded like a filthy cloak, she begins to reassess Molly and to try to care for her in something like the loving ways Molly has cared for Etta. 

While the plot is what drives this novel, it turns out to reveal a deep understanding of street-kids, and the many different reasons that people find themselves homeless and living on the streets. I find myself very impressed by both Hyde’s excellent story-telling and her desire to talk about social issues and the meaning of love.

Baby Etta loves Molly from the start, and calls out Molly, Molly, Molly whenever she sees her. While it takes much longer for Brooke to begin to see the sterling qualities of Molly, the relationship that develops between the two women is heartening 

I suppose there will be some readers who find this book to be corny and much too sentimental, I thought it to be a beautiful story about love, and redemption. 

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