Darling Girl


Fiction - Social Issues
300 Pages
Reviewed on 11/16/2018
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

A native of nowhere and a traveler everywhere, Ms. Hiner has been on the road since the day she was born, visiting all seven continents. She particularly enjoyed being ship-wrecked in Antarctica. The notion of rootlessness permeates her life and writing.
From a family of gifted storytellers, Ms. Hiner always expected to end up writing down those stories. She finally came to writing as a teacher of middle-grade students. While demonstrating how to write and revise a personal narrative, she found her own voice on the page. Once she joined a writing workshop group, she began to think of herself as a writer.
When not writing or traveling, Ms. Hiner reads, knits, and putters in the garden. She shares a home with her husband, Mr. Wonderful, two cats, and a great deal of clutter.

    Book Review

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.

Jack Magnus

Darling Girl is a Southern fiction novel written by Terry H. Watkins. It was 1957, and DG was only five years old when her mother “went away” for the first time. DG thought at first that her mama was simply having another baby, and she hoped that this time it would be a girl to keep her company, but after Gramma and Grampa took her and her brothers for ice cream at the Tastee Freez and went on home, Gramma told her that no, there was no new baby. DG’s dad wasn’t there either, and she couldn’t help but wonder where they were this time. In the past, they would get out maps and chart the exciting and strange places where their mom and dad would go. But her dad came home late that night. DG could hear Gramma angrily accusing him of something, but she couldn’t help running into the room to greet him. Gramma’s face was filled with fury, and DG was determined to save her dad, who finding out that she wasn’t sleepy, took her out for a drive in his car.

Terry H. Watkins’s Southern fiction novel, Darling Girl, follows the adventures and misadventures of DG and her family as narrated by her. Watkins’ story eloquently exposes the inequities of life in the 1950s and 1960s, where a woman’s depression at never-ending pregnancies and a cheating husband is treated with recurring stays in a mental institution, and a girl child has no name while her brothers are given the names of classic authors. I loved seeing that world through DG’s eyes even as I mourned the life her mother led and was saddened to see a child take on so many adult-sized care giving roles. Watkins’ work is ineffably lovely and beautifully written. Her characters, including DG’s beloved Grampa and terrifying Gramma, are crafted with an artist’s unerring vision and the oh-so flawed Daddy whom DG both loves and fears is especially remarkable. Darling Girl is an outrageously good debut novel; one that exemplifies the depth and power of this genre. It’s most highly recommended.

Rabia Tanveer

Darling Girl by Terry Hiner is a brilliant novel that just blew me away. The story was so poignant yet endearing at the same time. I loved DG; I loved her innocence and the way I got to see the world through the eyes of a little girl who thinks that her family is perfect, even with all of their flaws. I enjoyed how the author was able to show the world how DG saw it and how the world changed as she grew older. It was depressing at times and heart-wrenching as well, but the narrative was so powerful that I could not stop reading.

DG was five years old when her mother just ran away. The only sister of four brothers and the daughter of a mother with mental illness and a father who is never there, DG only knows the world as a happy place whenever she is near her family. However, as she grows older, she finds that her life is not as happy as she thought it was. Understanding a mother with mental illness is not easy; appreciating a father who is never there for her is even harder. With her life on a roller coaster ride, can DG hold on to what she believes to be happiness?

At times, this book was hard to read. Not because it was badly written or any such thing (it was brilliant to be honest), but because it was so real and raw at times. I felt DG; I felt her confusion and her need to cling to her grandparents because they were the only normal thing in her life. When I picked up this novel, I did not think that I would love and adore this story this much. I wish I could give this more than 5 stars because it is so close to my heart!

Amanda Rofe

Darling Girl by Terry H. Watkins is a coming of age novel set in the 1950s and 1960s. DG, a five-year-old girl, innocently tells her story in her own inimitable style. Living with a mother who is repeatedly placed in a psychiatric hospital, DG provides us with her own perspective on family life. While she often fails to understand what is going on, she pragmatically devises coping mechanisms to deal with events. DG is, initially, not privy to the adult narrative and we see the family dynamics through the eyes of the child. Through her, we understand more about family and societal pressures of the time, including racial segregation in America and apartheid in South Africa. As she matures into adolescence, she begins to better understand her parents, including her mother's problems and the way her father dominates their lives.

Darling Girl is a profound and often poignant glimpse into family life dominated by an unpredictable mental illness and a strong patriarchal figure. Terry Watkins perfectly captures DG's dysfunctional family including the skewed interpretation of events from the young girl's perspective. It was like watching a series of fascinating snapshots of the family taken intermittently over time. I liked the way the child eased into her teenage years and gradually became empowered, enabling her to plan an escape from her father's vise-like grip. This book is insightful and observant. It vividly depicts exactly what it was like to grow up in a relatively wealthy, but problematic family during the 1950s and 1960s when the veneer of respectability had to be maintained at all costs.

Mamta Madhavan

Darling Girl by Terry H. Watkins is the heart-wrenching story of DG whose mother abandons her at the tender age of five. It takes her a while to realize that her mother is not going to be back home soon. Her father is a pipeliner and they keep moving all the time. They have a home place in Louisiana, outside of New Orleans near Mandeville. Her father's traveling makes it hard for her mother, Margaret, because they have many kids. Her grandparents try to hide her mother's mental illness and her father's infidelity from her. A dysfunctional family, a mentally unstable mother, an abusive father, and a sense of rootlessness because of moving places and traveling through four continents reveal the premature growing up and maturing of a little girl well ahead of her age and will keep readers engrossed in the book till the end.

The story captures the fragility and complexities of human emotions and the pain of losing your childhood very early in life. Set in the 1950s in a Southern background, the story captures the pain and trauma of a little girl who feels betrayed by her own family while growing up. The author does a great job weaving mental illness, drama, and angst together, making the story palpable and real to readers. All the characters are well sketched and they lend their distinctiveness to the story as it progresses. I like the author's narration; it is detailed and vivid and brings the story and characters alive to readers. It is a story of pain, trauma, grief, growing up, and abandonment, both mentally and emotionally.