LIKE A WOMAN by Debra Busman


Email this review


A look at the scorched-earth terrain of a miserable childhood and hardscrabble life on the streets; there's a tough girl named Taylor at the center, coming of age in some of the hardest circumstances.

Busman’s beautifully written debut novel takes place in dirt-poor suburban Los Angeles, though the accents and idiom seem Southern at first, but that might be immaterial—poverty and moral chaos are the setting. The novel dips into episodes in Taylor's life, beginning when she's 7 and part of a tightknit group of children who band together to protect each other from their nightmarish, abusive parents; the deck is stacked against them, and near the beginning of the book, they mourn the loss of a crippled child who has suffered appalling parental abuse. Later, a young teenage Taylor takes to the streets, finding a girlfriend, Jackson, and a car interior to sleep in, which, after the horrors of her childhood home, seems like a refuge. She does drugs, steals compulsively, turns tricks, and tries to nurture her relationship with Jackson, a likable girl working on being a writer amid this rough life. Busman (California State/Humanities and Communication) has perfect pitch for the street slang her characters use and a nice rhythm in her prose, but the specter of kids fighting exploitative adults seems like familiar, even generic, territory. Taylor’s fierce attitude at times verges on corny, with nothing but loss and bad luck coming her way and love also proving a roller coaster (though Busman is at her most lyrical in conveying its sweet power, too). Near the end, a scene of Taylor battling a colt on a ranch gives a glimpse of what Busman is capable of—the novel rears to life, with Taylor for once using her strength against something that isn’t mysteriously set against her, but naturally so. A late episode involving a near drowning also has staggering power, again allowing something elemental to blow open the novel’s focus, which is occasionally too narrow. 

Finding the depth in a character’s struggle is the novelist’s task, and Busman does get there but somehow does not make her protagonist specific enough until the very end.

Pub Date: March 17th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1938103247
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Dzanc
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 2015


NonfictionBLACK BOY by Richard Wright
by Richard Wright
FictionDRYLAND by Sara Jaffe
by Sara Jaffe
FictionSHE by Michelle Latiolais
by Michelle Latiolais
FictionBASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA by Dorothy Allison
by Dorothy Allison