________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 3 . . . . September 19, 2014


Throwaway Girl.

Kristine Scarrow.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn, 2014.
184 pp., trade pbk., PDF & EPub, $12.99 (pbk), 12.99 (PDF), $8.99 (Epub).
ISBN 978-1-4597-1407-6 (pbk), ISBN 978-1-4597-1409-0 (EPub), ISBN 978-1-4597-1408-3 (PDF).

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Charlotte Duggan.

**½ /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



I think of the pain of losing Luke and Shelley and how robbed I feel. I think of how each day feels meaningless. I even think of the fact that Stephanie is right. They aren't coming back. But I must still hold onto everything we had. I must believe that even though they were taken from me, I was worthy of them. Because if I don't, I may never survive.

Throwaway Girl, Saskatoon writer Kristine Scarrow's first novel, tells the story of Bernice, or Andy as she is called, a young girl who was taken from her abusive mother. Andy has lived in foster homes and on the street and finally in Haywood house, a group home for adolescent girls. Now about to turn 18 and set out on her own, she reflects on her life. As Andy's narrative switches between the past and the present, readers see who this young woman is and what has brought her here.

      Andy remembers being six years old and sitting by the window anxiously waiting for her mother to come home. She is hungry. She remembers feeling nervous but hopeful. She has scrubbed the dingy apartment as well as she can, and she's wearing her best and only dress. Surely her mother will see what a good girl she is and be happy. But Andy's mom is a drug addict - she is unpredictable and prone to violence. When her mother finally stumbles through the door, reeking of vomit and clearly high, she does not praise Andy's housekeeping efforts but instead flies into a rage, strikes Andy across the face and throws a crushed and soggy toaster strudel at the hungry little girl. Andy's beautiful fantasy of motherly love is crushed, again.

      This is the only detailed account of life with mother that Andy provides, and so it serves as an emblem of what home means for Andy, and it explains why she is so desperate for love and approval. As readers, we anticipate that Andy's understanding of herself and of the world will be connected to these early years in the home of her abusive, drug addicted mother. In many ways, Scarrow meets our expectations. But while Andy's actions and reactions to what life hurls at her are mostly steered by her need to be loved, there is a significant weakness in the exposition of Andy's character. Andy's relationship with her mother, surely the most important and influential relationship of all, is barely explored.

      It is also hard to square some of the plot points of Throwaway Girl with the author's experience at Saskatchewan's Foster Family Association. No doubt the child welfare system is seriously flawed and children suffer horribly because of it. But is it an accurate reflection of the system to have teachers and administrators recognize and acknowledge a child in danger but do little more than stand in the hall and discuss it? Mrs. Duggleman, Andy's teacher, shows that she cares deeply about Andy and is very aware of how neglected she is. But it is not until Andy arrives at school with injuries she cannot hide that Mrs. Duggleman finally contacts a social worker. When help does arrive, it is swift and total. Andy is scooped up from school and taken to a foster family. She never returns to, or even visits, her mother again.

      And this brings us to the weakness mentioned earlier. As readers, we are relieved and happy Andy is brought to a loving, nurturing foster family. Finally, this child we've been rooting for is getting the care and attention she deserves, finally the neglect and abuse is over. But as relieved as we feel that Andy is safe and secure, it defies our instincts when Andy never seeks any form of connection with her mother. Andy moves easily into her new life, often marveling at her new good fortune, but she never asks about her mother, never desires to see her; apparently she does not wonder about her mother at all. For readers, the incongruity of Andy's total lack of interest in her mother is disappointing and confusing. Andy is resilient, courageous and seems to have an enormous capacity for love - we want to know and understand her. But how has she made this break from her mother with barely a backward glance, even a bitter, angry glance?

      But there are glimpses into the emotional damage Andy's mother has caused. When tragedy strikes and Andy is torn from the loving life she had been building, Andy spirals into a life dominated by her belief that she is not worthy of love. Ultimately, years of counselling at Haywood House provide Andy with enough confidence to look beyond her miserable past and set out on her own, the place where we meet her at the beginning of the novel.

      Andy's story continues beyond her release into independent living with a roommate, getting a job, going to university and finally, finding love. Andy even begins to cultivate an interest in writing. This is a lot ground for a short 182 page novel. And because so much happens in such a short period of time, there is little room for character development. There are exceptions; for example, Andy's beloved Mrs. Duggleman makes a late reappearance, and readers get to catch up on her story. But characters like Andy's roommate, the tragic Trina, seem to be wedged into the story. She is not revealed to readers through exposition but rather through a series of shocking incidents.

      Scarrow does take the time to paint many of the adults in Andy's life, her teachers, foster parents, and counsellors, as loving and consistent. But that contributes to some confusion: if most of the people in Andy's life have supported her, who is the "Throwaway Girl"? Scarrow's takeaway message is unclear. As Andy drives off with her boyfriend into the future, readers will wish her well. She has survived so much and has remained so positive. But readers will also be left wondering if Andy has gained self-awareness or merely survived.

      An audience of grade 6 to 8 girls will find the language accessible and the fast paced plot entertaining.

Recommended with reservations.

Charlotte Duggan is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

Next Review | Table of Contents for This Issue - September 19, 2014.

CM Home
| Back Issues | Search | CM Archive | Profiles Archive