My thoughts: From this novel's very first pages, I was struck by the elegant brilliance of Minot's writing. I expected a serious treatment of a devastating part of our global history, and I got it. I also got stunning insight into the life of an idealistic young American woman. Admittedly, as a former idealistic, young American woman, I am partial to such character explorations: "Jane was sufficiently bewildered by what kind of person she was, so it was always arresting when someone, particularly a stranger, summed her up."
The juxtaposition of Jane's story with Esther's is haunting. It would be easy to make Jane and her problems seem vapid, but Minot handles the interior monologues of both young women beautifully:
"We are not fenced in. Here is not a prison and still we are not permitted to leave." (Esther)
"She felt far from everything. She often felt far from things in familiar surroundings, so it was a reassuring alignment when she had the feeling when actually far from home." (Jane)Often in dual narratives, I find myself enjoying or identifying with one more than another. As I read Thirty Girls, I didn't. I was as fascinated by Jane's story as I was by Esther's. The two women are so different and yet Minot skillfully forms connections between their stories and their perspectives. In the work of a lesser writer, this novel easily could have failed in several ways, but Minot skillfully writes these characters in this story in a way I won't soon forget.
Favorite passage: "Sometimes it seems discovery is the learning of all I do not know."
The verdict: Thirty Girls is a hauntingly beautiful novel. It's at times incredibly depressing, particularly as so much of it is based on real events, but the shared humanity Minot infuses her characters and this story worth make it an astonishingly important one.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 321 pages
Publication date: February 11, 2014
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