The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
Do you run, do you hide, or do you fight?
Or do you lie down in the road?
Meena wakes to pain. A snake has been planted in her bed and she’s been bitten between her breasts. All she can think to do is run to The Trail, a new and experimental walkway across the sea from India to Ethiopia. But will she illegally make it across before her enemies catch up to her, or should she be more concerned by what could be waiting for her on the walkway?
This book is the story of Meena, a young woman of Ethiopian heritage living in Mumbai, India, with no preference or real regard for religion in a community where choice of religious belief is the main concern. This dystopian future version of our world is set at the end of the 21st century, when sea levels have risen, technology has advanced, and prejudice is rife for ethnicity, affluence, religion and sexual orientation.
Meena has drifted from place to place and is between languages, religions and countries, and her facial features make it a little difficult to determine exactly what her heritage is. This means she, unfortunately, has no real grasp of anything solid to anchor her to. Meena isn’t truly sure who she is, and her illegal sea-walk between India and Africa is the opportune time she needs to discover all the parts of her past she has kept hidden, both through naivety and shame.
The Girl in the Road offers plenty of classic dystopian themes such as tracking devices embedded in the armpits of characters and retinal scans in order to travel from place to place. Cars and trains fly through the air, both manually and seemingly at their own command. The more affluent can afford ‘elective gene therapy,’ eliminating the need to apply a daily layer of sun cream to shield themselves from the scorching sun.
This book has some powerfully beautiful lines, strong references to healing after violence and is uniquely brazen in its blunt and occasionally crude wording. It also has short, sharp and sudden bursts of creepy description that create quite dark and lingering imagery, making it a ‘no-no’ for relaxing bedtime reading. The vivid descriptions and unsettling language means it could easily be described as a psychological dystopian work of fiction. There were also some sexual moments that, though I may be prudish and those moments were short, I found very uncomfortable to read.
The amount of ‘new’ words to remember were quite overwhelming. I’m aware that in a dystopian future some words would have changed and altered over time, and new words will have been created for newly developed objects and technologies, but since this is set in future India, with snippets of Africa, there are also several spoken languages that the characters use. All this, as well as there being quite a vast amount of characters for a story mainly based around a young woman’s lone journey across a walkway between India and Africa, made this book too complicated for me to enjoy reading. I found myself vaguely aware that twists and turns in plot were happening, but my lack of ability to remember and distinguish between characters meant they pretty much all shamefully went over my head.
I also found the first-person narrative to be lacking in real human emotion, and at times I wouldn’t have been surprised if Meena had discovered she was a robot, but as the story goes on and her past is uncovered, it becomes a little bit clearer as to why she is so black-and-white in her view of the world, and why she is fairly distant from her own emotions.
The Girl in the Road has clearly been cleverly and intricately pieced together, but its complexity is more than I personally need for my ideal of a good book, and towards the end I found myself skipping over sections.
I chose this book because of its promise of a dystopian future and a strong female lead, which it definitely delivered, but I’ve realised I do enjoy some form of strong relationship or love interest, whereas Meena preferred her sexual encounters to be brief, descriptive, and for one night only. Here is an extract where she describes her college experience:
I studied sex. Men, women, trans, didn’t matter. Skin was skin. I was shy and quiet and hated speaking, but I made up for it with genius for flesh. Sexual triumphs were like trophies I piled up in a corner and stared at.
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne
If you enjoy books where the world building is complex, and you have a knack for remembering characters and objects and seemingly made-up words, then you should be alright with this book. If you enjoy fairly fantastical yet dark and somewhat disturbing characters and plots, then you should like this book. If you are not squeamish when it comes to descriptions of sexual acts, particularly in a future where the legal age has questionably dropped half a dozen years, this book could be for you.
But, unfortunately, it wasn’t for me.
© 2018 Rebecca Delphine
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Rebecca Delphine is an aspiring Young Adult author from Thanet.