YA horror rockstar and scribe Hillary Monahan is known for her bestselling YA novels, which recreate the Bloody Mary urban myth for a new generation without pandering or watering down scary, gruesome material. Her new novel, The Hollow Girl is no different. While the book is marketed for the YA market, The Hollow Girl is actually a feast for all ages, especially if you like your meals served brutally cold. I only wish I had cool books like this in high school.
Bethan, aka Bet, is the titular “hollow girl” of the story. She’s a Romani girl and apprentice to her village’s wise and scary crone, Drina, aka Gran. Gran is a healer, but is also well versed in the dark arts, something that sure comes in handy because, as we’ve all seen, lots of human beings are pretty horrible. To this end, some serious retribution must come to five of the village’s boys. You see, Bet and her friend Martyn, a half-Romani or “diddicoy,” have been brutally attacked, and these boys must pay.
Trigger warning: Bet has been violated in the worst way by Silas, the vile and entitled son of the village’s chieftain. Like the most villainous men and boys of our culture, Silas won’t take all the no’s in the world for an answer. Tthe toxic masculinity on display here will only answer to violence. After his group beats Martyn to death, Silas viciously steals Bet’s virginity against her will.
I have often spoken out against rape as a plot point because it screams of lazy writing — used in order to move the characters in question toward their fates. I’m happy to say that this is most definitely NOT the case here. Monahan’s writing is, in a word, honest. The way she describes Bet’s emotions are spun from deep truths about the way women actually think and act. And the scene itself is treated with substantial care and talent. It’s such a simple thing, honest art, but it is tough to come by. It’s why the best creators attract and maintain a loyal following; we can’t always put our feelings and experiences into words, but when something rings true and touches us, we’ll never want to let it go, even if it means drudging up horrible memories.
In other words, I couldn’t put The Hollow Girl down; two sittings, and the book was finished. This is a story in which we see bad things coming to good people, and feel dread because we actually care what’s going to happen to them. Not only do we get characters so rich we feel like we may know them, we also get a story that pushes us through its vivid world at a blistering pace. Even simpler, The Hollow Girl is fucking fantastic — especially if you’ve grown up in a female skin and/or desire justice in a society where we rarely get it.
Those who relish folklore or Grimm fairy tales will also find plenty to eat up within The Hollow Girl and its long-ago world of spellcraft, herbal remedies, and the conjuring of nightmares. While Bet is barely on her way to healing both mentally and physically, Gran sets her off on a series of tasks. She must collect physical tithes from the boys who killed Martyn, her only friend, and beat and violated her. These bodily features — an eye, a nose, an ear, a tooth, and two fingers — will ensure that Gran and Bet can summon Martyn back from the dead. But will they be able to do it all in time — and without being burned alive or murdered in another gruesome way?
You’ll have to read The Hollow Girl to find out. The novel was published last month under Delacorte Press imprint at Random House. If this dark tale of justice sounds like it’d be a story that you or a loved one would devour as I did, I highly recommend you check it out.