The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youkers

The Forgotten Girl

Rio Youkers

352 pages

Titan Books

Review by Samantha Dolan.

 

It’s been a lean summer for me so far when it comes to reading material. Not bad, per se, but just an average 2.5/3 stars. While I was waiting for the fifth Pierce Brown book to be released, I was hoping to find something that would light a literary fire under me. And then I started The Forgotten Girl.

 

This is a novel that in unapologetic in its pace and violent detail. In the first few pages, you think perhaps you’ve stumbled into a gangster novel or detective fiction as you plunge head long into a vicious beat down. Then you meet the Spider and you, like our unlucky protagonist Harvey, have absolutely no idea what’s happening but you’re along from the duration whether you like it or not. Harvey is a busker, making a living on the streets of New Jersey. He’s described as a white guy with dreadlocks, following a routine that keeps him ticking along nicely. While he’s at great pains to make sure the reader knows he’s not a coward, he also doesn’t come across as someone who is massively ambitious. He seems to be happy to be defined by all the things he’s not and is a passive but not unpleasant leading man. The most fascinating this about Harvey, in my opinion, is that biggest thing that he is not; part of the main story. I know, that sounds like an oxymoron when discussing the protagonist but he really is on the periphery of a situation that started decades earlier. And as Harvey worms his way deeper into a narrative that isn’t his own, the reader starts to get an idea of the scope of this new world. It’s quite impressive.

The Forgotten Girl is about a girl Harvey knows as Sally. She’s being hunted by The Spider because she’s taken something from him that’s left him greatly diminished and he wants it back. Sally has been on the run for years and able to evade the Spider until she fell in love with a busker from New Jersey. Through Harveys’ eyes, we learn how Sally met the Spider and how she became his titular forgotten girl.

Youers world is rich and deep and the ability to draw parallels between his world and the one we all share is easy and disturbing. The character development is slow but purposeful and while the goons are pretty much interchangeable, Harvey’s relationship with his father is a real highlight. It is also immensely satisfying to see Harvey grow and change and start taking positive action instead of allowing life to happen to him constantly. But this was one of those books that you just wanted to race through to know what happened and slow right down so you can savour every twist and turn. This was definitely going to be my first 5-star review of the year but about two thirds of the way through, we hit a pot hole that almost took the wheels off for me.

“When my boss has finished with the girl, she’s ours…And let me tell you, Harvey, we’re not interested in her mind.”

It’s been made clear that these are bad guys. It’s been made abundantly clear how many ways they can hurt you. The level of creativity in this whole novel is top notch so why resort to sexual violence against women? Being a rapist shouldn’t be a character trait. And frustratingly, it’s not the only time this comes up. It just does nothing to advance the story or the characters development and it feels like just a ‘thing’ that happens because that’s what happens to women in bad situations. It really brought me out of the world and I never really got back into it.

It’s a massive shame because the ending is definitely satisfying and everything up to that point feels authentic and exciting. I think that the proliferation of sexual violence against women in entertainment should be curbed. We should just come up with better ideas. But that being said, the ideas that Rio Youers has in this book are first class and it was a fast and fabulous read.