May 16, 2017
I love a small town story. I grew up in various small towns around the Midwest so I can really appreciate when an author can capture the sense of claustrophobia that sometimes comes with that life. Gillian French’s Grit explores those themes but never quite gets there for me. Despite this, I found this YA debut to be a sign of good things to come.
Darcy Prentiss just wants to get through the summer picking blueberries, getting drunk, and surviving her senior year in her small, rural Maine town. She wants to make money and focus on traveling somewhere else someday so she’s blinded when she’s nominated for the town’s annual beauty pageant. Darcy is not a pageant girl, in fact most people think she’s the town slut, but she goes along with it to appease her cousin Nell. Nell has a secret and Darcy is keeping it but when evidence related to a missing girl shows up in town, Darcy is afraid Nell’s secret could get her killed.
I spent a good amount of time waiting for the other shoe to drop and the book to become a thriller. But that doesn’t happen. It’s okay, but with the way that the book’s opening focuses on the missing girl, Rhiannon, I kept thinking the secret Darcy and Nell share had something to do with it. This possibly influenced my enjoyment of the book because I was just expecting something else. French nails that claustrophobia in the whispers around town of what happened to Rhiannon, but when that drama unfolds in an unexpected way, it makes the rest of the book deflate. Rhiannon’s disappearance appears to be what is propping up the story, but without that it’s hard to focus on the real issue of Nell’s dark secret and Darcy’s foibles in the beauty pageant.
However, I did appreciate how French presented the migrant workers on the blueberry farm with Darcy. While they are clearly not the focus of the story, French does attempt to give them more humanity than most white authors might. Darcy is one of the only town people who shows compassion when a fire burns down one of the huts where the migrants live and it’s obvious that she feels camaraderie with them for often bearing the brunt of the town’s ill will.
But for what it is — not a thriller but rather an exploration of the confines and limitations on small town life — French executes it fairly well if not to my exacting standards. I do wonder if Darcy really went along with the Princess pageant so willingly but I am excited to see more from this author.