In this poignant coming-of-age novel, author Mary Ellen Sinclair shares the courageous efforts of a young Rhode Island girl determined to come to terms with her abusive childhood.
Through this intimate first-person narrative, protagonist Mary Ellen tells of growing up in Providence in the late ’50s. With her parents, siblings, and Italian grandparents close by, things seem normal. She attends St. Theresa’s School where nuns “move as if they are floating above the floor,” and where wooden clickers and the fear of God keep students in line.
But beneath it all, Mary Ellen harbors a “secret” she believes would destroy her family if revealed. As she comes to realize the ill nature of her father’s sexual proclivities, she likens him to the evil witch in Hansel & Gretel, and knows she must search for her own life’s fairy tale with a happier ending.
Sinclair’s lyrical writing fluidly captures this winding journey, from first jobs, boyfriends, and school, to marriage, career, and Mary Ellen’s confrontations with the past. From pin curls and TV dinners, to peace, love, and war, Sinclair’s vivid details capture the changing times. While the novel’s focus is on sexual improprieties, the offending moments purposely appear alongside translucent dreamscape visions that offer a sanctuary for Mary Ellen.
Sinclair, like her protagonist, is an artist at heart. Her solid prose and balance of exposition and natural dialogue capture the intensity of a child’s fear, from footsteps heard on the basement stairs, a lock bolted shut, or in the chilling words, “Let’s go to the bedroom now.”
Marked similarities between the author and her central character suggest this book may be a well-crafted literary version of Sinclair’s own experiences. (A note on the copyright page explains that while the book is fiction, “certain events did take place.”) Although its characterization as historical fiction seems misplaced, those drawn to artful, engaging drama that reads like intimate memoir should find A Girl’s Courage an inspiring, cathartic read.
Also available as an ebook.