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Reviewed by Marta Tandori for Readers' Favorite
DG’s family isn’t like other families. For one, her father is a pipeliner so her family is never in one place for very long. They go from state to state and country to country, wherever the work is. More importantly, though, her beloved mother isn’t like other mothers. She’s much more fragile and she tends to go away and rest for long periods of time. Even when her mother’s at home, DG has to help out with her brothers, Henry David, Samuel Taylor, Oscar Fingal and George Gordon. DG thinks maybe her mother wouldn’t be so tired if she stopped having and losing babies. And just when DG thinks her mother is finally on the road to recovery, her mother doesn’t recognize her at all…
A trifecta of dysfunctionality, mental illness and infidelity forms the backbone of Terry Watkins’ poignant coming of age offering in Darling Girl. This is a poignant work of fiction where a little girl’s soul is laid heartbreakingly bare. Using simple, yet evocative narrative, Watkins reminds us that children – even in the innocence of youth – are attuned to their environment and can often read between the lines, especially when it comes to the actions of the adults in their lives. Watkins’ young protagonist is not only mature beyond her years but also grows up very quickly when she comes to the realization that her father isn’t the shining knight she has believed him to be.
Under the façade of burgeoning prosperity and solid family values, Watkins’ book portrays a bleak image of American society in the sixties of the last century. To some extent, as long as the husband was a good provider, the wife had to look the other way if he was inclined to bouts of infidelity, as DG’s father was. After all, what option was there for a wife with no work skills outside of the home? Through DG’s eyes, we see that her mother had no choice but to return to an unfaithful and oftentimes volatile husband. Watkins gives us ringside seats as DG’s spirit is slowly crushed under her father’s barely-concealed malice, but as she spirals into inevitable depression, we become hopeful as her mother finds her own strength of character to help not only herself but also her daughter. With no promises of a happily ever after, Watkins has nevertheless spun an evocative tale of hope in Darling Girl and sometimes that’s far more than any of us can hope for.