Review by: Mark Palm
When I get a really fun book the review usually writes itself. All I have to do is get out of the way, make sure that the spelling is right and try not to go on too long. Those Girls by Chevy Stevens is almost the polar opposite. It’s an exceptionally good novel by an exceptionally good writer, but it’s a tough book to read, and a tough book to review, but I urge you to read it. Even at it’s darkest moments it’s well worth your while.
The Campbell sisters have a hard life; Jess, Courtney and Dani live on a remote and rundown ranch in Western Canada, where they work hard with little to show for it. Their mother has passed away and the only person in their life is their alcoholic abusive father, who is on the road most of the time. When he is home the sisters live in constant fear of his fearsome temper. The only thing that they have is a fierce love for each other, and their dreams; the eldest, Dani, has a steady boyfriend and loves the farm; middle girl Courtney cuts a swath through the boys and wants to be a singer, and the youngest, Jess has her camera, even though she can rarely afford film.
When their father finally comes home the fear is palpable. When he learns that Courtney has been seeing an older man, he explodes, beating the sisters, burning Courtney with a red-hot pan and trying to drown her in the toilet until Jess shoots and kills him. Afraid that they will end up either in foster care or jail the girls bury him, and take off in their beat-up truck, headed for Vancouver.
Remember that this is only the beginning. Things get even worse. It’s not long before the truck breaks down on the road and the girls are forced to rely on two older brothers, Brian and Gavin, who stop to see what’s wrong. The girl’s don’t trust them, but with little or no options they follow the men to a remote ranch, where they are stranded. As the tension mounts the girls try to figure a way out but before they can the men jump them, beat them, tie them up and move them to an isolated warehouse. What happens next is not for the faint of heart, and Ms. Stevens doesn’t flinch.
The story continues eighteen years later, as the sister, under new names, are carving out lives in Vancouver. Dani and Jess are doing all right, although they work non-stop just to get by, but Courtney, who faced the worst of the abuse, parties incessantly, goes from job to job and disappears for weeks at a time. Her life affects both sisters, but has a profound impact on Jess’s daughter, Starling, who knows next to nothing about the sisters past. Crystal disappears once more, and the story plunges back into the harrowing finale.
If I were to judge this book only as a thriller I would give it high marks; it is unbearably tense, and as blood-curdling as a horror novel. The sisters are all solid characters, and the prose is spot-on. What elevates this book for me is that it makes a vitally important statement about the effects abuse has upon girls without sacrificing any of the qualities that makes it a good novel. I can see that the girls have almost no hope from the beginning. The abuse they suffer at the hands of their father will mark them for life. The poverty, the isolation, and the lack of opportunities almost guarantees that their lives will be hard; and they are. All of the girls struggle with money, with relationships, and they work unbelievably hard. Still, somehow, they have hope. They persevere, by supporting each other, and if they don’t exactly triumph, they survive, with grace and dignity. That’s a lot for a thriller.