4 out of 4 stars
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Do you remember that moment when, deeply in love with somebody, you are asked to describe your feelings, but you are simply at a loss for words? It is the same with a good book. Norman Hall’s novel is a genuinely wonderful book. Good Girl explores the most profound emotions a human heart can feel. It teaches us never to give up even if all the odds are against us. It shows us that hope can spring at the bottom of the deepest well. It is about unconditional love.
23-year-old Jessica Anne Khalid lives in Wellingford, England, in a tiny two-bed terraced house, “her quiet place of refuge, her open prison.” Despite her two jobs, she has troubles paying her debts to the City Council or to the two men in dark suits bursting into her house every Friday. Jess also takes care of her sick father, Joe Butler, who stays in St. James Nursing Home. However, visiting him on Tuesdays seems an unbearable burden for the young girl. What is the dark secret that made Jess lose her smile? Where is her husband, Mo, and, more importantly, where is her 3-year-old daughter, Leila? Faced with dismissal and eviction, Jess has no other choice but to assume another identity. Bearing a new name, yet still haunted by the demons of her past, she begins a journey that will take her to the most unexpected places.
In the picturesque English countryside, retired Colonel Peter Jeffries owns a huge mansion called Chalton Manor. A widower, he has one daughter, Lisa, who is nowhere to be seen. Although he suffers from some serious health problems, Colonel Peter goes on a trip to Nepal, Himalaya, and climbs up to the small village of Lantang at 7,227 meters high. Since he does not find whatever he is looking for, he returns to Chalton Manor gloomier than ever. Little does he know that his life will radically change during his river trip on his boat Carician.
Apparently unconnected, Jess’s and Peter’s lives will ultimately collide in a surprising manner. The third-person narrator in the first twenty-three chapters of the novel alternatively focuses on either Jess or Peter. The remaining twelve chapters show them together and solve the puzzle of their troubled past. The story flows so easily and the characters are so relatable that I ended up reading the book in two days. I can honestly say that Norman Hall has the rare gift of storytelling and the incredible talent to create the kind of atmosphere and tension that leaves you wondering what is going to happen next.
The book touches on many sensitive issues: neglect, abuse, injustice, racism, and trauma. These are not overtly explicit, though. On the contrary, the scenes of emotional, physical, or psychological abuse are slowly reconstituted from bits and pieces. Situations in the present trigger flashbacks into the characters’ past. In Jess’s case, memories and dreams help us understand her isolation and despair. With great sensibility, the author describes the incredible carrousel of emotions and feelings in a broken heart. I was afraid and angry with Jess, I cried with her when she confessed the whole truth for the first time, and I was happy for her when she found comfort and support.
I highly appreciate the novel for its overall optimistic message. Without a doubt, it deserves 4 out of 4 stars. Apart from a handful of missing commas or extra definite articles, the editing is exceptional. I recommend Good Girl to all those who passed through traumatic experiences. Jess’s tenacity and strength act as a guiding light for people who survived the worst and reinvented themselves under the most difficult circumstances. Even if you have not passed through any kind of abuse or trauma, this book could still make you reflect on the things you need to be grateful for.
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