If you’ve been abused in any manner by men in the past, The Hollow Girl is a deeply cathartic experience to go through. The entirety of the novel shows an incredible respect for survivors of sexual assault and the different ways they respond to their trauma. Wish you could make your abuser suffer? Oooh, you’ll live vicariously through Bethan and her grandmother Drina.
Monahan’s #ownvoices Roma representation is wonderful, nuanced, and directly fights some of the myths that exist even today. It also does what I do every time I have the opportunity: tell people no, you do not get to use the word “gypsy” if you’re not Roma, it’s racist and it’s their word to reclaim, not yours. And if you’re about to ask me: no, you don’t get to use it in that situation either. Even before you ask the question of me, I’m pretty sure the answer is no.
Admittedly, it’s a little heavy-handed with the details of Romani life and customs, but you know what? It’s necessary. With so many people still using the g-word inappropriately and so many myths about Roma life viewed as truths, it’s the anvil that you need to have dropped on your head. Can’t even fault the book for that. For everything else it’s doing, it’s even hard for me to fault the shallow, rather quick romance between Bethan and Martyn, who’s a half-Roma boy just like her. She lives with her people, he lives with his father and the other gadjos (non-Roma people).
Quite kindly, Bethan’s rape by Silas is kept off-page. We know what happens and the word is used, but they don’t need to read an explicit play-by-play of the violent act against her. Instead, the terrifying stuff we get on-page is what happens to Silas and his four friends who beat her up and nearly killed Martyn! One gets his eye gouged out by Drina and another is tormented by the illusion of a scarecrow so Bethan can trap him and take what she needs from him for both Martyn and her own sense of avenging herself.
Even so, Bethan isn’t entirely on board with what she’s doing. Before she met Martyn and went through her trauma, she was a girl impatient to learn magic and curses as an apprentice. It’s only after she suffers that she gets those long-desired lessons as a tool she can use to get justice. But is it really justice to kill some of the five and force one into a life of servitude to her? Bethan’s mental conflict regarding her vengeance is the focal point of her growth as a character.
Her conflict also serves as a contrast to Drina, who is perfectly fine making those who hurt her in the past and made Bethan suffer. Some survivors want to get their justice and move on; others need more than that and would like to make their abusers hurt. Both are perfectly valid responses and neither character judges the other’s feelings as wrong. As Drina says, it takes a certain kind of person to do the bloody, awful work they do. Drina is that kind of person; as the novel goes on, Bethan inches closer and closer to not being that kind of person.
I’d say I’m more like Drina.
The Hollow Girl is a cathartic novel about the different ways we respond to trauma, finding our moral centers, and sweet vengeance. Because even when Bethan decides that punishing the five boys isn’t helping her, I’m sure being helped by living vicariously through her.