Book Review: Girl 43

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Author: Maree Giles
ISBN: 978-0-7336-3321-8
RRP: $24.99

Inspired by the personal experiences of the author – information sure to intrique me and convince me to read a book. I am always left wondering which bits happened and what is a product of imagination. Novels inspired by real events often have quite a harrowing effect because you know that at least some of these events actually happened.

Girl 43 is exactly like this. Maree Giles actually was imprisoned in the Parramatta Girls’ Home for ‘her own good’ and she did suffer degradation, humiliation and corporal punishment at the hands of those employed to care for her.

Walking into Parramatta Girls’ Home you check your identity at the gate and become a number, Maree became 43 and so did her protagonist Ellen.

Ellen’s crime was to decide at the young age of fourteen that she knew what was best, and that’s what she did – against the express directions of her mother and stepfather. She took off to a pop festival with her friends where she met a boy and moved in with him. She was reported missing and three months later picked up by the police and charged with being exposed to moral danger. Reading it now it seems ludicrous but I do remember my mother telling me she could do the same to me and that was in the early 90s.

The timeline in Girl 43 jumps around a little and it took a while to get the swing of the time jumps. They were only small jumps, a matter of months, but things did change quite rapidly for Ellen so I was often flicking back to the beginning of the chapter to work out when I was.

Giles takes us inside the walls of a notorious Australian Training School for Girls and acquaints us with the way they lived and the horrors they faced.

girl 43

A routine examination uncovers Ellen’s pregnancy and things only get more difficult. There is no support for young unwed mothers and adoptions are forced or coerced, and sometimes the behaviour of authority figures is even more reprehensible.

Girl 43 brings to light the treatment of many detainees of girls’ homes in the story of Ellen and her struggle to be united with her baby. The adoption process was deplorable and the treatment the girls faced was heinous, many of the girls were placed in these homes because they were found to have been in moral danger while their time in the home placed them in very real physical and psychological danger.

Powerful and sometimes painful to read Girl 43 highlights the controversial issues of both forced adoptions and detainment in the Parramatta Girls’ Home. Girl 43 was first published in the UK in 2001 as Invisible Thread, before these events became public knowledge.

Girl 43 is a must read for Australian women, those of the generation who could so easily have been faced with these experiences, and all of us who have come after that and were spared these punishments.

Maree Giles writes with clarity and emotion in a style that is easy to read though the subject matter is sometimes quite harrowing. I look forward to seeing what else she has to offer.

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