Terry Watkins’ Darling Girl Disrupted

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What if you lived in a trailer, always moving to the next town? What if your mom had to spend weeks away and your dad was never home? In Darling Girl (Green Place Books), a heart-moving tale, Terry H. Watkins chronicles 13 years in the precarious life of “DG” Pitre through 23 vignettes across four continents.

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This novel propels the reader into the mind of a child, the narrative a realistic voice of an insecure young girl, getting more sophisticated as time passes. Watkins’ artful showing of characterization, place, and emotion is impressive.

Except for her younger brothers, everyone in DG’s life is an expert at going away. The first time DG’s mother “goes away to rest,” it is 1957 and she is five years old. DG assumes her mother needs a break because she’s a kid who is just too noisy. She’s too young to understand that her mother suffers from mental illness.

DG’s family is nomadic, following the gas pipeline and the work her father does for it. Although home is New Orleans, stability is almost nonexistent as they move their travel trailer around the country. For most of DG’s life, they are always strangers, never staying long enough to find friends in the few people who even want to speak to them. After all, pipeliners and their families are like gypsies, always on the move.

DG learns early about responsibility, her mother’s emotional instability and her father’s absences forcing her to be all grown up most of the time. Someone’s got to care for her four younger brothers. Although her grandparents come and help when they can, it’s up to her to summon the cavalry when things fall apart.

As DG grows older, she notices that her mother’s depression comes after she miscarries a child (which has happened many times) or when her father doesn’t come home like he’s supposed to. She wonders whether her mother’s spells are caused by something other than the noise from a houseful of kids? Everyone is always sad, and she can’t figure out how to make them happy.

Even an event as simple as a Brownie group meeting can become an embarrassing attempt at normalcy. DG never talks about her mother’s illness outside the family; people just don’t understand. But they talk, and she carries the shame of their words with her everywhere she goes.

DG is heartbroken to be the girl whose mother can’t remember her own daughter’s name. She guesses it’s because of the burn marks on her mother’s temples after she returns from a hospital stay. Sometimes DG wishes a storm would blow through and carry her to another place, to somewhere she can be a different person, one whose mother remembers her.

As she grows older, DG realizes that her father is the root of the family’s problems. He’s the one who moves them around so often. He’s the one who leaves for days. He’s the one who kisses women who aren’t her mother. Their world revolves around him, and their orbits seem to always be knocked off-kilter.

After 11 years, when DG is 16, her mother realizes the only way to heal herself is to stand up to her husband. She escapes from the mental hospital, never to return. Her mother is now such a different woman, her cowering self left behind. But is it enough to save their family from disintegrating and to rescue DG’s plans for the future?

In Darling Girl, you find yourself not just reading what Watkins tells you but rather living inside the head of a girl battling domestic chaos, trying to make sense of her fractured family life. Readers can’t help but walk in the shoes of the Darling Girl who struggles through mental illness, infidelity, and familial turmoil, trying like hell to emerge intact on the other side.

Darling Girl is now available to purchase.

ABOUT TERRY H. WATKINS:

A native of nowhere and a traveler everywhere, Terry H. Watkins has been on the road since the day she was born. Although rooted in the deep South, she has visited all seven continents and particularly enjoyed being shipwrecked in Antarctica. Having worked in banking, computers, a nonprofit educating girls about STEM opportunities, and in education teaching middle-schoolers everything from American History to Comic Books to Philosophy to Writing, she retired in 2014 and began writing shortly thereafter. When not writing or traveling, she reads and putters in the garden. A survivor of a large family, she has one stepson, two grandsons, and daughter-in-law. She shares a home with her husband —Mr. Wonderful – three cats, and a great deal of clutter.

K. L. Romo writes about life on the fringe: teetering dangerously on the edge is more interesting than standing safely in the middle. She is passionate about women’s issues, loves noisy clocks and fuzzy blankets, but HATES the word normal. Visit KLRomo.com or @klromo.

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