Welcome to the penultimate day of the blog tour for The White Girl by Tony Birch. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to HarperCollins for my digital review copy. Do check out the post by my tour buddy for today, bookstagrammer Atomic Books 1976.
About the Book
Odette Brown has lived her entire life on the fringes of Deane, a small Australian country town. Dark secrets simmer beneath the surface of Deane – secrets that could explain why Odette’s daughter, Lila, left her one-year-old daughter, Sissy, and never came back, or why Sissy has white skin when
her family is Aboriginal.
For thirteen years, Odette has quietly raised her granddaughter without drawing notice from welfare authorities who remove fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. But the arrival of a new policeman with cruel eyes and a rigid by-the-book attitude throws the Brown women’s lives off-kilter. It will take all of Odette’s courage and cunning to save Sissy from the authorities, and maybe even lead her to find her daughter.
Bolstered by love, smarts, and the strength of their ancestors, Odette and Sissy are an indomitable
force, handling threats to their family and their own identities with grace and ingenuity, while never
losing hope for themselves and their future.
Format: Paperback (272 pages) Publisher: HarperVia
Publication date: 28th April 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find The White Girl on Goodreads
Disclosure: If you buy a book via the above link, I may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops
The White Girl is the first book I’ve read by Tony Birch, an author I had never come across before being invited to participate in this blog tour. However on the strength of this book I’ll definitely be searching out more of his work.
“Trouble? Our people have been in one sort of trouble or another from the first day we set eyes on a white person.”
I knew vaguely about the discrimination faced by the indigenous people of Australia but the experiences of Odette and her granddaughter gave me a first-hand insight into the daily realities of their lives: enforced segregation, the separation of families, restrictions on freedom of movement and the withholding of the right to citizenship. I found it shocking to think that the sort of discrimination one might associate with the period before the abolition of slavery could still be taking place in Australia in the 1960s.
Alongside the state-sponsored discrimination, Odette and fellow Aboriginal people are subject to racial abuse and threats of violence meaning they need to exercise caution about where they go or what they say, all the time on their guard in case they breach the petty rules governing their lives. Such an environment acts as a kind of shield for those with violent and racist inclinations.
The despicable attitude towards Aboriginal people is exemplified in the character of Sergeant Lowe whose warped sense of superiority (reinforced by the legal framework of the ironically named Aborigines Protection Act) convinces him he has a duty to ‘protect’ the children of indigenous families. ‘He would begin with auditing each of the Aboriginal children under his guardianship with a view to deciding the best outcome for their future welfare.’ That ‘welfare’ includes removing children from their families and placing them in institutions.
Odette is the most wonderful character who demonstrates amazing fortitude and a willingness to put the interests of her granddaughter, Sissy, before her own. The relationship between Odette and Sissy is lovely too, with Sissy showing an increasing maturity as the book progresses and that she has inherited the sharp wits of her grandmother. I also loved Odette’s friend, Millie Khan, one of the few people who has the courage to confront Lowe. ‘Oh, you’ve looked after the welfare of our young girls for a long time now. Most of them are dead, disappeared or were sent mad by what you did to them in the institutions.’
In the book’s poignant epilogue, we learn just what Odette’s love and determination has achieved but also the tragic consequences of the discrimination meted out to the indigenous people of Australia.
The White Girl is a beautifully written and absolutely enthralling story of unconditional love and courage in the face of adversity.
In three words: Powerful, moving, poignant
Try something similar: A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey
About the Author
Tony Birch is the author of three novels: the bestselling The White Girl, winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Indigenous Writing, and shortlisted for the 2020 Miles Franklin literary prize; Ghost River, winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing; and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2012. He is also the author of Shadowboxing and four short story collections, Dark As Last Night, Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People; and the poetry collections, Broken Teeth and Whisper Songs. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award for his contribution to Australian literature. Tony Birch is also an activist, historian and essayist.
Connect with Tony