The White Girl: A Novel
“A profound allegory of good and evil, and a deep exploration of human interaction, black and white, alternately beautiful and tender, cruel and unsettling.”—Guardian
Australia’s leading indigenous storyteller makes his American debut with this immersive and deeply resonant novel, set in the 1960s, that explores the lengths we’ll go to save the people we love—an unforgettable story of one native Australian family and the racist government that threatens to separate them.
Odette Brown has lived her entire life on the fringes of Deane, a small Australian country town. Dark secrets simmer beneath the surface of Deane—secrets that could explain why Odette's daughter, Lila, left her one-year-old daughter, Sissy, and never came back, or why Sissy has white skin when her family is Aboriginal.
For thirteen years, Odette has quietly raised her granddaughter without drawing notice from welfare authorities who remove fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. But the arrival of a new policeman with cruel eyes and a rigid by-the-book attitude throws the Brown women's lives off-kilter. It will take all of Odette's courage and cunning to save Sissy from the authorities, and maybe even lead her to find her daughter.
Bolstered by love, smarts, and the strength of their ancestors, Odette and Sissy are an indomitable force, handling threats to their family and their own identities with grace and ingenuity, while never losing hope for themselves and their future.
In The White Girl, Miles Franklin Award-nominated author Tony Birch illuminates Australia’s devastating post-colonial past—notably the government’s racist policy of separating Indigenous children from their families, known today as the Stolen Generations—and introduces a tight-knit group of charming, inspiring characters who remind us of our shared humanity, and that kindness, hope, and love have no limits.
Praise for The White Girl: A Novel
The White Girl is a black and white story about Australian colonialism's malevolent legacies, and the courage, strength, and dignity of Indigenous resistance. It's a story about strong women, with whom Birch's life has been blessed. It is also a profound allegory of good and evil, and a deep exploration of human interaction, black and white, alternately beautiful and tender, cruel and unsettling. — The Guardian
"Birch is a writer with a profound gift for language and human insight. He writers with razor's edge emotional clarity and empathy about people and place--especially on those Australian margins, rural and urban. The White Girl showcases his gift." — The Guardian
"The way Birch describes the day-to-day existence of his characters, so sweetly rendered, gives them a universal quality. The story is a truth even while the specifics of this novel are fiction, and this tale is a revelation of small details." — Sydney Morning Herald
"[Tony Birch brings] a lifetime of knowledge about Australian history, social policy, and cultural identity to this book, a deceptively simple story about family love that is rich in humanity and purpose, and hope. The White Girl is worth your time and will reward you over and over again." — Australian Book Review
"[The White Girl] explores the legacy and ongoing fallout of the Stolen Generation, and also touches on matters that are still pertinent and ongoing: the vulnerability of Indigenous women to sexual predation specifically, but on a larger scale, generational violence and toxic masculinity." — The Big Issue (Australia)
"Birch's stories have always exuded a warm, lived-in feel, even in their bleakest moments, and in The White Girl his style reaches an apotheosis: there is a profound and rare clarity in the prose, and the pacing is excellent." — The Saturday Paper
"The White Girl is approachable and fiercely readable, its linguistic and cultural power cloaked in deceptively simple language." — Sydney Review of Books
Tony Birch is a local treasure. — Jacinta Parsons
The White Girl is a tense and gripping read...an important window into a shameful period of Australia's very recent history, and a wonderful celebration of strong Indigenous women. It's a book that I hugged to my chest after reading the final page. — Claire Nichols, The Book Show
Tony Birch is one of those writers who has mastered the art of storytelling... His latest novel The White Girl is no different--in fact the characters he creates and the plotlines he weaves are almost hyperreal--you know people like Odette Brown and her grandbaby Sissy. — Daniel Browning
The White Girl is not given to sentimentality; instead it is a celebration of Aboriginal resilience and kinship in response to trauma. — Arts Review
“With a brisk pace and lush prose, Birch breathes life into Odette’s wrenching and courageous search for her daughter and the hope of a better life for Sissy. Readers will feel the pull of this harrowing story.” — Publishers Weekly
“An uplifting novel that celebrates love, family, and the women who put those qualities first in their lives.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Award-winning Indigenous writer and activist Birch has created a poignant novel that keenly demonstrates how the strength of family bonds can shatter societal biases." — Booklist
“Set in the 1960’s in the midst of the government’s racist Stolen Generation policy, The White Girl remixes the typical genre expectations of historical fiction and noir to spin a unique and profound tale all its own.”
— The Chicago Review of Books
“Birch draws from his Indigenous background to craft a story that's both heartbreaking and hopeful, and focuses on the strength that comes from a family's love.” — Buzzfeed
“a carefully crafted work of fiction that makes good writing seem easy.” — New York Journal of Books
"Birch illustrates how Australia’s policies dehumanized not only the Indigenous people they sought to control—often by taking children from their families and placing them in white mission schools—but also the white people who were complicit in enforcing them." — The New Yorker