Book Review: The White Girl by Tony Birch

Posted March 18, 2022 by WendyW in Book Review, bookblogger / 37 Comments

The White Girl
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

by Tony Birch
Publication Date March 15, 2022
Published by HarperCollins
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Genres: Fiction / Family Life / General, Fiction / Literary
Pages: 272
Format: ARC

A searing new novel from leading Indigenous storyteller Tony Birch that explores the lengths we will go to in order to save the people we love.Odette Brown has lived her whole life on the fringes of a small country town. After her daughter disappeared and left her with her granddaughter Sissy to raise on her own, Odette has managed to stay under the radar of the welfare authorities who are removing fair-skinned Aboriginal children from their families. When a new policeman arrives in town, determined to enforce the law, Odette must risk everything to save Sissy and protect everything she loves. In The White Girl, Miles-Franklin-shortlisted author Tony Birch shines a spotlight on the 1960s and the devastating government policy of taking Indigenous children from their families.

The White Girl by Tony Birch is a beautiful story about one strong woman’s desire to protect her granddaughter and make a better life for her. 

This is a look into the oppressive practice of the Australian government in removing Aboriginal children from their families in order to “protect” them back in the 1960s. In this story, we follow one woman in her efforts to keep her thirteen-year-old granddaughter from the clutches of the Government.  

Odette Brown lives with her granddaughter, Sissy in a small country town.  Set in the early 1960s, Odette knows that Sissy, with her fair skin, may be targeted by the welfare authorities for removal to a “better” home.  So far, she’s managed to evade the authorities, but when a new lawman moves into town, she knows she has to do something to keep Sissy safe.  

This short novel is written in a very straightforward way and was easy to read, but also emotional too.  I enjoyed the simplistic writing style and was instantly immersed in the story.  After reading this story, I still don’t know much about Odetter or Sissy, but I do know a lot about the practices of the Government during this time period and how affected the lives of Odette and Sissy, and I believe this is the point the author was trying to make.  

Although an emotional story, I felt like the author was able to highlight the horrors of the Federal Aboriginal Protection Act and the ramifications this act had on the Aboriginal people, without being too dramatic.  He does this by writing about a strong, inspirational woman who defies the welfare officials and tells her story in a very matter-of-fact way.  

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves literary fiction. I received a complimentary copy of this book.  The opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Australian Cover:

The White Girl by Tony Birch was originally published in Australia by Queensland Press on June 4 2019. Here is the original Australian cover:

About Tony Birch

Tony Birch is the author of three novels: the bestselling The White Girl; Ghost River, which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing; and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. He is also the author of Shadowboxing and three short story collections, Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award. In 2021 he will publish two new books; Whisper Songs, a poetry collection, and Dark As Last Night, a book of short stories, both with University of Queensland Press. Tony is a frequent contributor to ABC local and national radio, a regular guest at writers’ festivals, and a climate justice campaigner. In 2021 Tony will publish two new books; a poetry collection, Whisper Songs, and a new book of short stories, Dark As Last Night (both with UQP).

Which Cover Do You Prefer?

37 responses to “Book Review: The White Girl by Tony Birch

  1. Over the last couple of years, I have tried to read more books by and about indigenous people. This is another part of history that I was not aware of. That cover is so desolate feeling. Wonderful review, Wendy. I am hoping to find this one a the library.

  2. I think I prefer the Australian cover. It’s more intriguing to me. This sounds like an incredibly emotional story. Excellent review!

  3. Australian author … done! There’s seriously something in the water in Australia. Everything written by Australian authors are so awesome. 😀

  4. In the U.S. Native Americans children were put in boarding schools to rid them of their language and culture. I learned from a Canadian blogger that Canada had their own version of placing children in “better” families. Now this! I had absolutely no knowledge of Australia’s program. Obviously we can’t know about all the atrocities that have happened, but this is an important one to know about and learn from. Great review, Wendy. Thanks for sharing this book.

  5. Sounds like a wonderful read about an awful practice. Still can’t believe our governments were doing things like even not that long ago…

  6. I’d love to add this book to my list. I enjoy stories that are straightforward and immersive. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful review and recommendation Wendy!

  7. This sounds amazing.

    Canada has a similar history of removing indigenous children from their families. For a few generations, they were sent to horrible boarding schools where many died from malnutrition and disease. Between about the 1960s and 1980s, most of them were adopted out to white families who knew nothing of their culture and were given no resources to preserve their new children’s culture, language, customs, religion, etc.

    These are such sad chapters of our shared past as humans. Wow, that was a tangent!

    Anyway, I’m checking now to see if my local library has this book. Thank you for blogging about it. Your review was quite helpful.

  8. I like both covers with this one. I’ve read about this a lot, and still continue to read about it. More people should. I hadn’t heard of this book so I just bought it. Thank you for sharing this!

  9. I’ll bet this was a very emotional read at times. I can’t even begin to imagine experiencing something like that, Wendy. Awesome review – and I prefer the first cover because of the colors.