It would be inaccurate to say I enjoyed this book. It’s a bleak story that is at once challenging and thought-provoking and for both those reasons and so many more, really important. Rather, I was astounded by this book, it’s themes, plot and the way the story moves along – so much so – I couldn’t put it down.
It tells the tale of Michelle Cameron, the “Gosling Girl” of the title, a young black woman who, when the book opens, is just released back into the community after serving time for having committed a heinous crime (killing a little white child) when she was 10 years old. Given a new identity, the reader follows Michelle as she takes her first tentative steps into “normality”, only, as Michelle quickly discovers, “normality” is a relative term.
When an old friend of Michelle’s is murdered and she’s linked to the crime, she is immediately suspected. Worse, the life she’d slowly started to build for herself swiftly unravels as the police, media, public and others target Michelle, assuming guilt long before anything is proven.
A young black detective assigned to the case, Natalie Tyler, observes what’s happening to Michelle and, against her professional judgement, finds herself drawn in. Is Michelle innocent of the crimes past and present? Is she as much a victim as the those she’s accused of killing and deserving of protection from the terrible forces mounting against her, or is she as evil as she’s been painted and thus the endless punishment others seek to mete out is warranted?
When is one considered to have “served their time”? Is it possible to be redeemed or start again when society, the media, and those who have something to gain from keeping the crime in the social memory, persist in reminding everyone of your offense?
Raw, powerful, yet beautifully understated in tone and writing, this book cleverly and yet with surgical precision, dissects institutional, systemic, overt, and casual racism and those who deny it and are complicit in upholding and feeding the structures maintaining it. It examines how those marginalised by colour, class, wealth and sex are either disregarded or excused, and how the disenfranchised are exploited by those with even a small amount of power.
Beautifully written in that you often aren’t aware of just how shocking and/or pervasive something is until after a scene has finished and you consider the repercussions, this is a moving account of how justice is not served but is contingent on a range of factors outside the alleged perpetrators and sometimes the victims’ control.
It’s not an easy read, but it’s one that is so worthwhile and ultimately so rewarding.