SWEETGIRL by Travis Mulhauser


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A first-time novelist borrows well-worn tropes.

Percy James is 16 years old and an orphan, basically. Her mother might not be dead, but she’s not exactly around, either. Percy is, in fact, searching a meth dealer’s house for the missing Carletta when she finds a baby named Jenna and, on impulse, snatches the infant from her crib. Will the neglected teen enlist the help of a responsible social worker in finding a more salubrious environment for both herself and Jenna? Oh, heavens no. She will, instead, take the cold, filth-covered foundling to the home of her mother’s ex, a gruff-but-kindly alcoholic. Will the baby’s mother and her meth-cooking boyfriend even notice the baby is gone, and will they care? Yes and yes! Drug-addled, gun-crazy rural high jinks ensue. One expects a narrative of this sort to unfold against an Appalachian setting—or within the swampy confines of the Florida panhandle, maybe. That Mulhauser has, instead, situated the fictional Cutler County at the northernmost point of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula is definitely the most original part of his novel. Percy, certainly, is an established type. She’s wise beyond her years, committed to doing the right thing despite—or is it because of?—the hardships she has endured. And, like every other character in this novel, she speaks with a folksy eloquence that requires strenuous suspension of disbelief. “While the particulars of a given calamity may be impossible to predict, while I could never say I expected to find a baby in the bedroom, chaos itself was always confirmation of the dread I carried certain in my bones.” Only a reader who is willing to believe that any teenager has ever expressed such a thought is capable of appreciating this book.

Maybe enjoy a Coen brothers double feature—Raising Arizona and Fargo—instead.

Pub Date: Feb. 2nd, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-06-240082-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2015


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