REVIEW: The Girl in the Road
by Monica Byrne
The Girl in the Road was a debut novel I had been anxious to read. Now that I have, my feelings are mixed.
The book follows two female narrators, each with their own tale to tell. Their stories are set in different times, one in the present and one in the past, yet each journey has elements that parallel the other and offer seamless transitions between the two perspectives.
Readers first meet Meena in adrenaline-filled introductory pages. She’s fleeing India, wounded and alone, haunted by shadowy, unidentified threats. Meena has heard of The Trail, a new-tech bridge crossing the Arabian Sea that harvests energy, and decides to cross it to Ethiopia—returning to the country she was born in. Traveling the bridge is illegal, highly difficult, but the crossing forces Meena to face challenges along the way and within herself.
Mariama, our second protagonist, is a child who also heads toward Ethopia after a traumatic experience, tagging along with strangers who have taken it upon themselves to be her guardians. Her experience is limited to the sheltered life she had as a slave in a wealthy home, so her months-long journey across Saharan Africa opens her world quickly and dramatically.
Both of these journey stories are very much told in the moment—as if you were in their head the minute they decided to undertake these journeys, but with little context as to what spurred their actions. It’s not immediately apparent what these characters are leaving behind or what they hope to find at their destination. Details about the past slowly unfold, sometimes at a glacial pace.
The pacing was inconsistent—while the beginning moved quickly and hooked me as a reader, other times felt incredibly slow. Meena’s “present” was set in the vague future, about 30-40 years from 2014. Enough in the future that the technologies referenced were unfamiliar and seemed more sophisticated than we have today.
Also, I know very little about Indian and African culture, making all the cultural references difficult to grasp—I never knew if the characterizations were true to the country or represented this fictional futuristic time period. More context on that front would have been nice.
Overall I would recommend this book, but I wouldn’t read it a second time.
***I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.***