A Girl in Three Parts
Eleven-year-old Allegra shuttles between her grandmothers who live next door to one another but couldn't be more different. Matilde works all hours and instils discipline, duty and restraint. She insists that Allegra focus on her studies to become a doctor. Meanwhile free-spirited Joy is full of colour, possibility and emotion, storing all her tears in little glass bottles. She is riding the second wave of the women's movement in the company of her penny tortoise, Simone de Beauvoir, encouraging Ally to explore broad horizons and live her 'true essence'. Rick lives in a flat out the back and finds distraction in gambling and solace in surfing. He's trying to be a good parent to Al Pal, while grieving the woman linking them all but whose absence tears them apart.
Allegra is left to orbit these three adult worlds wishing they loved her a little less and liked each other a lot more. Until one day the unspoken tragedy that's created this division explodes within the person they all cherish most.
This book is a quiet, beautiful, and painful ride. It deals with heavy topics, but introduces them through the eyes of a child as she discovers new harsh realities and attempts to understand them for the first time. Besides loss of a parent, this book tackles violence against women and the need for sisterhood, teenage pregnancy, surviving a war, religious intolerance, and physical illness. Still, the story manages to keep itself from being too heavy or depressing, and in many ways, it feels like a slice of life. In fact, I certainly can relate to the compulsion and need to bridge the rift between family members, even when it seems impossible.
That being said, it’s hard to identify exactly where this book fits. The protagonist is young in both age and naiveté, but the novel is written with a level of thematic maturity that skews more towards young adult and adult readership. This novel will appeal to those who enjoy stories about family, tragedy, feminism, and surviving with hope. It may even be a walk down memory lane for those who went to Catholic school or lived in Australia during the ‘70’s.
What works really well is Allegra’s voice. It’s fresh, humorous, and highly observant of the world around her. The other characters are also quite unique- Joy with her eccentric and erratic ways, Matilde with her old school strictness, and Rick with his surfer dude lifestyle. Sometimes, the characters behave so strangely, like Joy bottling all of her tears in glass jars, that they skirt the line of becoming caricatures, but it’s also what makes this story its own.
Overall, A GIRL IN THREE PARTS is not just a tale of growing up, but one of reckoning with the past and finding the courage show others how we want to be loved. Allegra, small but mighty, will find her way into readers’ hearts.