Ella LOVED Stone Girl by Eleni Hale.
It’s our Young Adult Book of the Month for July!
CW: death, child abuse, child neglect, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, drug abuse and addiction
It’s 1989 and it’s always been twelve-year-old Sophie and her mum against the world. With Sophie’s Baba over in Greece, Sophie and her mum work their way through life, just the two of them. “Don’t you ever desert me, doll,” she said. “Don’t know what I’d do if you did that, too. It’s just us, remember?”
It’s always been Sophie and her mum until Scotty comes along. Sophie doesn’t like Scotty; he takes her spot on the couch and takes up all her mum’s attention. How can Sophie hang onto her mum when Scotty’s got the booze and the ‘top shelf shit’?
And then the unthinkable happens and Sophie is left all alone. Passed around from caseworker to caseworker and group home to group home, Sophie’s chances of finding a ‘forever home’ dwindle quickly, leaving Sophie to fend for herself in the brutal reality of the Victorian Foster Care System.
One of the first rules of the system is: don’t get attached. Not to places and definitely not to people. But when Sophie meets Gwen, Matty and Spiral, she ignores this rule, feeling for the first time in a long time that she finally has a family again. But Sophie should have listened to that rule, because things are not getting better any time soon.
This was by no means a light book and, as I sobbed while reading it for the umpteenth time, my best friend asked if I could “just read something happy for once?!” – to which I replied, “No.” Yes, the content of the book is very heavy and at times incredibly depressing, but you don’t feel bogged down by the end. There is a hopefulness to this story that permeates all the darkness. Sophie is an incredible main character: challenging, frustrating and endearing. You sometimes find yourself screaming at her “why are you doing this???” but at the same time, you know it is circumstance that has led her down this path and pray with all your heart she finds a way out. Hale’s writing is phenomenal, every character seems to jump off the page (even the ones you only meet for a few lines) and she has vividly recreated the Melbourne of the early 90s.
Hale tells this story from a place of personal experience, having lived in group homes in Victoria in the 90s. She says,
“I saw first-hand how the system treats the youth in its care. I was one of the lucky ones because I got out… So many people I know were judged, unloved and ended up in prison or worse. They were survivors of broken, uncaring or abusive homes and they lived in a system that neglected them.
I can’t and don’t talk for everyone. This is one story. I hope it opens up more.”
And this, I think, is the point of the story. To reveal the harsh realities that youth in the system must face, to bring understanding to their actions, to hopefully incite some sort of change for these children.
Stone Girl is a heartbreaking, powerful and empowering read. I would recommend it for those 14 and over who are fans of Melina Marchetta, Jennifer Niven or Angie Thomas, or who are interested in social justice issues. It’s emotionally challenging but well worth the effort.