Stunningly original and wildly inventive, The Girl in the Road melds the influences of Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, and Erin Morgenstern for a dazzling debut.
Meena, a young woman living in a futuristic Mumbai, wakes up with five snake bites on her chest. She doesn’t know how or why, but she must flee India and return to Ethiopia, the place of her birth. Having long heard about The Trail — an energy-harvesting bridge that spans the Arabian Sea — she embarks on foot on this forbidden bridge, with its own subculture and rules. What awaits her in Ethiopia is unclear; she’s hoping the journey will illuminate it for her.
Mariama, a girl from a different time, is on a quest of her own. After witnessing her mother’s rape, she joins up with a caravan of strangers heading across Saharan Africa. She meets Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. Yemaya tells Mariama of Ethiopia, where revolution is brewing and life will be better. Mariama hopes against hope that it offers much more than Yemaya ever promised.
As one heads east and the other west, Meena and Mariama’s fates will entwine in ways that are profoundly moving and shocking to the core. Vividly imagined and artfully told, written with stunning clarity and deep emotion, The Girl in the Road is a true tour de force.
I have so many thoughts about this book. The shortest thought: I love it. The next? I want to read it again. Because I can’t help myself: I want to write like this, honest and fearless and beautiful.
TGITR is on the shortlist for my favorite book of the year. A book that counts Gaiman, Morgenstern, and Atwood on its list of influential authors might be reaching, but Byrne isn’t. She’s comfortable walking among the greats, authors I love. Byrne pulls it off, with beauty and subtlety and honesty. She seems to have an innate understanding for when to go big and when to reign back. Her writing is beautiful, and she gives equal weight to mundane moments and life-changing seconds. There’s a lovely transparency – I checked out her blog and the person and the author share the same voice. That may sound silly, but sometimes I feel like writers have a tendency to take on a voice that just isn’t true to them, and it feels inauthentic to me. It takes something from the writing.
Byrne understands that personal heroes can be deeply flawed. I appreciate a layered, challenging story, and that’s what this is. You will love and hate the characters sometimes, but you’ll understand them. They are real people, with flaws and goals. They have coping strategies and solutions for obstacles. They also come across as familiar but unique – I felt like I already knew pieces of them, but they didn’t seem like a permutation of another character I loved. Meena can be frustrating and obstinate, but there’s something soft and sad about her. Mariama comes across as naive and childlike, but she has a hard streak in her that comes out at the best and worst times.
This book is not for everyone, but I can see my Gender Studies professors from Northwestern adding this in a mad rush to the fall syllabi. It explores a lot with gender and sexuality, topics not everyone is comfortable reading about or discussing. Byrne writes fearlessly, queuing up a slew of uncomfortable truths that the characters have to confront about themselves. It’s refreshing and engaging, and the tiny mysteries she embeds into their histories are unraveled slowly and well. I carried this book around for the better part of a week, and I’m already eager for Byrne’s next novel.
Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I selected the book based on my own preference, and all opinions are my own.