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Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser

sweetgirlSixteen-year-old Percy James is on a wild goose chase to find her methed-out mother Carletta during a northern Michigan blizzard.  With a stuck vehicle, she trudges to her mom’s dealer’s house, where she sees her mother’s car, but no Carletta, the dealer and his girlfriend passed out in the living room, and a sick and malnourished baby left in an upstairs room with the window wide open.

Percy’s plan is to get the baby to safety, but her action unleashes the fury of Shelton the dealer when he comes to and notices the baby missing.  Shelton has contacts – guys tied to his influential uncle who know the lay of the land and aren’t afraid to snowmobile it, gun or improvised weapon in hand.

These men haven’t dealt with Portis Dale, yet.  He’s a crusty recluse who once dated Percy’s mother and knows the woods better than any of Shelton’s druggy minions.  And he is Percy’s last chance, in a testy storm that shows little mercy.

The storyline alternates between Percy’s 1st person and Shelton’s 3rd person.  While it is primarily Percy’s tale and you certainly can feel her frustrations with the local drug culture and the hopelessness of small town life, it’s interesting to watch Shelton develop beyond a one-note caricature of a drug dealer.  While he is far from noble, the man has at least a shred of conscience, in evidence with his wanting to do something right – whether it’s figuring out the best interest of the baby or accepting responsibility for his own mistakes.

Sweetgirl draws a comparison to DanieI Woodrell’s Winter’s Bone.  I am also reminded of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River.  All three have tough-talking young heroines on quests of self preservation and redemption.  But Mulhauser has created his own story and cast of voices, and Sweetgirl holds its own; the book will grab your attention to the very last page.  Read the previous two novels if you are so inclined (and they are very good) but don’t miss this one.

I’d say the world of grit lit  is off to a fine start for 2016.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



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