The Forgotten Girls: An American Story
by Monica Potts
Publication Date: April 18, 2023
Penguin Press UK – Allen Lane, Particular, Pelican, Penguin Classics, Allen Lane
Once upon a time, in the foothills of the Ozarks, there lived two girls, Monica and Darci. They quickly became best friends, in spite of the fact that their personalities were quite different. There were similarities. Both were gifted, did well academically, and were encouraged in school. Both wanted to leave Clinton, Arkansas, dreaming dreams and making schoolgirl plans to go to college far away after they graduated from high school. But life isn't a fairytale and as the 1990s progressed, they started to grow apart. Their lives diverged. One continued to focus on the dream of leaving and the other started to spiral into addiction, dysfunctional and dangerous behaviour, and self-harm, tying her ever more tightly to the town she used to want to leave. They lost touch for several years until one day, Darci tracked Monica down on social media and got in touch.
By this time, Monica was a journalist. She knew that there are rural areas all around the country with the same problems and societal pressures at work, wreaking havoc with the lives of their inhabitants. She wanted to know more about these pressures and why some people escape (as her mother saw it) and some end up staying, often simply because they don't see any other possibility. She and Darci were a couple of examples and she decided to use their stories to tell a larger tale.
Darci gave Monica permission to read her diaries. Monica interviewed many people in the town and essentially began a participant observation project. She dug through data. This powerful and important book is the result--part memoir, part sociology, part journalism. It's extremely well done, quite thought-provoking, and highly readable. I did not want to put it down. When I had to, I was thinking about it and eagerly looking forward to picking it up again. Potts does a fine job of using her story and Darci's as the structure on which the book is built while skillfully broadening the narrative lens so we can see how their lives fit into the bigger picture. She inserts the data in a way that does not interrupt the flow of the story. Because the story is ongoing there is no neat and tidy ending. We leave these two women at a recent moment in their lives, hoping that eventually, a happy (or at least happy-ish) ending will come.
I enthusiastically recommend this book. Definitely 5 stars.
I received a digital copy of this excellent book in exchange for a fair review. I thank NetGalley, the publishers, and the author.
You caught my attention, I'll look for a coypy.
It pairs well with Poverty, by America.
This does sound a very good book.
Thank you for highlighting it here.
All the best Jan
There is a whole lot of excellent new nonfiction crossing my path lately, that's for sure!
Very good, dear Shari - I like such "social-psychological" processing of real circumstances. They show part of what isn't working in the world and maybe also how it could be done better. And here it is from a very personal perspective.
Have a happy week! Hugs, Traude 😘
She does a good job of illustrating why things are the way they are. I think that one thing the narrative and data illustrate is that it's not going to change anytime soon, both because of structural issues, the kinds of culture change that happen in all societies, and the beliefs/attitudes/behaviour of the people themselves.
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