Allison's Book Bag

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Posted on: March 10, 2015

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles is a sympathetic and unflinching novel about two cognitively-challenged young women. Their developing friendship is what most struck a chord with me. The violence perpetrated against them isn’t sensationalized, but rather felt realistic and true to the theme that life can be cruel. Winner of the Family Schneider Award, Girls Like Us is an absorbing and powerful story about voices often not heard in literature.

Told in alternating viewpoints, each chapter reveals the perspective of the two girls on the situations unfolding them. At first, Biddy and Quincey seem to have little in common except that they’re both graduates of their high school’s special education program. Biddy is white and is always shyly hiding behind her fat exterior. Kind-hearted and sensitive, she also remains scared to step out her front door, especially when men are around. In contrast, Quincey is mixed race and always has her defenses up. She also bluntly express what’s on her mind and faces the world with her fists up. When the two are assigned to live together, with Biddy serving as housekeeper to an elderly lady and Quincey working at a local grocery store, slowly everything changes.

Initially, their perspectives are totally antithetical. Take for example how they view their living arrangements. Biddy views Miss Lizzy’s house as something that came out of a storybook. She feels like a princess going up into a castle. She’s also excited to finally have her own room. In contrast, Quincey describes the house as being about “as big as a hummingbird’s nest” with only a shower instead of a tub. She decides though to make the best of the situation, as long as “that stick of an ole woman be leavin’ me alone.” A pivotal moment happens when Quiney learns that Biddy can’t cook. She convinces Biddy to let her cook and then to hide the truth except, when Biddy actually has to deliver her first meal, Biddy can’t bear to start the relationship of with a life. Quincey thinks this confession will get them fired, but instead earns them praise for being able to work together.

Many other relationship-changing events happen, but the one that binds them together is the rape of Quincey by a co-worker. All along Biddy has been slowly coming out of her shell. The arrival of Stephen, the son of a friend of the family, forces Biddy to rethink her fear of the men. The need to buy dry corn for a mother and her ducklings drives her out of the house and into town. All along Quincey has also been opening herself up to friendship. She buys night lights to help Biddy sleep without nightmares. She also invests in a television for the girls, because Biddy will like the cartoons and maybe learn a few more songs. Then comes the evening when Quincey doesn’t return at a normal hour from her job, Biddy wanders the streets looking for her, and the girls end up bringing comfort to one another with revelations of what happened in their most horrendous experiences.

Giles took ten years to flesh out Girls Like Us. She drew on her experiences as a special education teacher to write the story of Biddy and Quincey. In my interview with her and elsewhere, Giles states, “I just flatly believed those girls voices needed to be heard.” The result is a hard-hitting and unique story.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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