The Hollow Girl is totally different from every other book that I’ve ever read, there’s truly nothing else like it; in some ways I love it but in other ways I’m totally disturbed by it. This book isn’t an easy, smooth read, it will make you cry a river & leave your stomach churning, but there’s no doubt that it’s a masterpiece.
I was sent an eARC of this book by Random House in return for an honest review!
This book contains rape, extreme violence & paranormal themes
The Hollow Girl is very different from the books I usually read; it was a lot darker, more violent & definitely more gruesome than what I’m used to, but I wanted to read it because of the fact that the main character gets her revenge upon her attackers, but also because I knew it would give me a chance to learn more about Romani culture.
I honestly found the information in this book about Romani culture so interesting; I don’t know much about the Romani community, only what I’ve seen in TV shows that are set out to demonstrate the shock-factor, so The Hollow Girl was very educational in that sense. I found it really interesting how Bethan was constantly thinking about the rules of her community whenever she did anything, even something small & meaningless like climbing over a fence. The fear of being judged impure or losing the respect of her clan was something that drove every one of Bethan’s actions, at least to start with, & in some ways this made me feel quite sorry for her. Something that I have always said of Romani & other travelling communities’, is that I respect the love they have for their traditions & history, & The Hollow Girl was definitely focused on tradition & history. I have to admit though, that I appreciated the fact that real life made Bethan see that things like tradition & history aren’t always the most important things & I liked seeing her grow & develop throughout the book.
Although the fact that Bethan is Romani is a big part of this book, the main thing The Hollow Girl focuses on is rape. And rape culture. The Hollow Girl opens with a foreword from the author; the foreword warns readers that the book is ultimately about rape & its consequences & for this I give Hillary 10/10. Some people believe that trigger warnings work as spoilers, but I think knowing what was going to happen to Bethan actually made the book “better” – the build up to the incident was a lot harder to deal with because I knew what was going to happen to Bethan, but I couldn’t do anything about it. Additionally, Bethan is scared of the group of boys that carry out the attack, & she’s worried that their groping will get her into trouble, but she never considers how far their mistreatment & disrespect for her could go; reading this made me very sad because I hated that Bethan was generally quite innocent & that her innocence was going to be taken away from her in such an awful way.
Although the rape itself doesn’t actually feature in a chapter, the build up & immediate after affects do, & these scenes broke me. I cry quite easily over books so I knew this book would make me cry – what I didn’t expect was how much I would cry… I ended up having to take my glasses off because of how much I was crying. Hillary’s writing for the scenes that directly surrounded the attack was phenomenal; she managed to hit me in the middle of every emotional target & left me more devastated than any other book ever has done. So powerful was her writing that I kept randomly crying all throughout the rest of the book – the second that the attack was mentioned again, tears would start falling all over again.
This book isn’t just about the rape itself though – it’s also about rape culture. The boy who actually rapes Bethan is called Silas; a vile boy who believes he is entitled to Bethan & her body. Everything about him was gross, from the way he spoke to Bethan, to the way he treated his friends. I literally hate him & can’t think of another character I hate more. Silas’ father is also on my list of most-hated though. Silas’ father demonstrates rape culture perfectly when he tries to make excuses for his son; saying that he can learn from his mistakes & that he’ll apologise for what he did… instead of condemning his son & casting him out of the clan, something which he should do as the clan leader, Silas’ father defends him & tries to protect him from Bethan & her grandmother’s wrath, & wow did this make me angry! The worst thing about him though, was that he believed his son had done it but still defended him – Silas’ dad wasn’t even under any illusion that his son couldn’t be capable of something so vile, he knew his son was a rapist but still wanted to protect him. No thanks.
As well as attacking Bethan, the boys also attack a lovely young man called Martyn. Bethan meets Martyn before the attack, when she is selling herbs & charms in the local village market, & the two quickly form a strong bond. Despite Bethan making it clear that she cannot have a relationship with Martyn as he is not Romani (although he does have some Romani blood), Martyn is 100% dedicated to Bethan, & when the boys from her clan start to give her trouble in the town market Martyn takes it upon himself to do everything he can to protect her. Unfortunately, Martyn’s kindness is not repaid in kind & he ends up being beaten to death by the group of boys that attack Bethan. This scene was awful to read & I found the actions of the boys very difficult to process; I know that beatings like this really do happen & that made it so hard to read… I really don’t understand how people can do so much damage to another human being – especially when the victim is someone as kind & wonderful as Martyn.
After Bethan & Martyn are attacked, Bethan’s Grandmother, Drina, steps up big time for both of them. Bethan’s Grandmother was an incredible character, with so much female strength & love for Bethan! There were so many times where I wanted to hug her & her character made me wish for grandparents that care like she does. After Bethan is raped, Drina shows Bethan so much love – but not necessarily in the conventional way. Bethan asks Drina to use her powers as healer & witch to save Martyn’s life; but this isn’t something Drina can do, it’s something Bethan must do under Drina’s guidance, & something that will require some pretty gruesome acts. These gruesome acts will allow Bethan to save Martyn, but also allow her to act out her revenge on the five boys that were involved in her rape.
The things that Bethan has to do to cast the spell that will bring Martyn back to life are seriously gross – I do not read violent books so some of these scenes were very hard for me to read! I’m not going to spoil the book by saying what Bethan has to do exactly, but what I will say is that she has to take something from each of the boys – & it’s safe to say they do not give to her willingly. I hated the scenes that involved Bethan taking things from each of the boys & in some ways I hated that Bethan had to do such awful things in order for her to save Martyn. There were parts of me that hated that Bethan’s rape was changing her so much; changing her into someone who does such awful things, but I also understood that these awful things were being doing in the hopes of something beautiful & I understood that in order to use magic, there had to be sacrifice.
This review is a lot longer than my reviews normally are, but that’s because there’s just so much to this book. I didn’t want to list The Hollow Girl as horror on my GoodReads because I think it’s a much deeper story than your average horror book; instead I listed it as a thriller. This book is a lot of things; gross, upsetting & difficult to read, but it’s also a fantastic story that teaches some very important lessons. Hillary is an incredible writer & I can’t wait to read more of her work.
You should also check out Utopia State of Mind’s review of The Hollow Girl!