Towelhead (2005) – Alicia ERIAN

With a movie about to come out (starring Australia’s own Toni Colette! God she’s good…), one of my friends went out and bought this book to see what all the fuss was about. After reading it in one sitting, she threw it my way to see what I thought, because she though it was absolutely brilliant. She loved it, by the way. So, does it live up to the friend hype?

Jasira moves to Houston to live with her father, after her mother kicks her out because she is jealous of the attention Jasira receives from Bruce, her mother’s girlfriend. Her father, however, is not a whole lot better. His strict rules and regulations stifle Jasira’s journey into womanhood, which is rapidly approaching. Instead, she looks for the affection she so badly wants (and needs) in the people that live on her street – Mr Vuoso, the patriotic next-door neightbour, and Melina, the slightly insane, pregnant neighbour across the street.

Thank God my parents are not whack-jobs. That’s pretty much the sentiment of the entire novel. Seriously, there are some people that should just not be allowed to procreate. Jasira’s parents are two of them. Their insane views on every part of Jasira’s life – like telling her she can’t have a black boyfriend, like tampons being an exclusively married woman’s luxury, like being beaten is ok – are intensly damaging to a girl who has never known what is is to be truly loved, and so turns to physical intimacy, which she has just discovered, with the local paedophile. Depressed, yet? It gets worse. Well, not much worse. But these issues that Erian deals with are things that so few people think about, and I wonder how many young girls (and boys) are brought up to believe that their bodies are somehow disgusting, and should never, ever be discussed. Oh, hello Sarah Palin.

Despite my long-standing hatred for all novels narrated by children, this one is thankfully done very, very well. There’s not hint of pretension, or wordy vocabulary, or annoyingly self-aware ‘dumb’ vocabulary, but words that a real thirteen year old might actually say. This language ties into Jasira’s inability to talk to anyone around her about what is going on, as well as her own warped (by her parents) views about the people she encounters. She feels sorry for the people that hurt her – she just wanted to be loved, or at the very least, noticed, and when those people that do notice her hurt her, she feels responsible for their protection, lest they be punished for the good things they did to her. Erian creates totally sleazy characters (hello, Mr Vuoso) that we, as an audience, fully understand to be bad people, but Jasira’s upbringing doesn’t let her into the secret as well. It is up to her to find out for herself, but she never does. It is up to an intervention by someone else to finally tell her that she doesn’t have to put up with this kind of behaviour.

While this is not a YA novel, it is definitely something that more young girls and women should be reading. And parents too, I suppose. As a kind of anti-example, of how parenting should very much not be. You know what this reminded me of? A kind of modern retelling of Henry James’ What Maisie Knew. But with more sex. So, more modern, I suppose. This kind of cautionary tale against children. Though, I think it’s more a warning against divorce – a cry out from all those kids adversely affected by the break-up of the marriage of their parents. This is a solid novel, that manages to tackle some pretty heavy themes, though without being overtly depressing or gloomy. Mind you, I have lost faith in a very large portion of humanity.

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One thought on “Towelhead (2005) – Alicia ERIAN

  1. Sarah says:

    The subject matter of this movie (and I now know, novel) put me off but Alan Ball and our Toni’s involvement in the adaption, and you review of the book have encouraged me to check it out.

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