Posted in books

The great big in little victories + “A Girl is a Half-formed Thing” by Eimear McBride

Little victories. I didn’t really realize what a big deal those seemingly little victories meant until I had my Katy, and watched her grow.

As a baby and toddler, my first daughter did everything beautifully, right on time. She rolled over, sat up, crawled, stood, and walked all right on time, with us watching and smiling with the victories. But it was all expected; we knew she would do it. Because those are the developmental milestones that we expected.

But my second daughter was different. She was born with Down syndrome, and we knew when she was born that it would be different. We were dazed and confused, but we waited and watched.

For a baby with Down syndrome, Katy was an anomaly. She had great muscle tone, for one, which helped her a lot. She was alert and aware, and did pretty well. But, even with all that, I watched. And I learned that all those milestones we accepted so easily in Libby had actually been magic.

Because, in watching Katy reach those milestones, I realized how much work it is to reach those milestones. So many little things a body and a brain most do to reach those little things. Figuring out how to roll over meant first realizing that you want to roll over, then getting your arm in the right place, and moving a leg the right way, and then tensing certain muscles the right way so that you can roll onto your side, and then onto your belly.

With most babies, those movements are pretty fluid, and you know (maybe even without knowing) that they’re just teaching their brain how to tell their muscles that they want to roll over. With Katy, though, every little movement toward that goal was work, and when she finally taught her brain how to tell her little body to roll over, how to make all those small little movements work together to make it easier to reach her goals–well, it was amazing.

Crawling up to get to the dog . . .
Crawling up to get to the dog . . .

She was pretty much on time with typical kids, because she was so strong (even for a typical baby), but each little movement taken to get to a milestone was a victory, a step closer to a goal. When she crawled, and sat up (she did them backwards, because her little arms were so short, and because she was a baby of action), and stood and walked. Each one was an amazing victory.

. . . and back down to get her again.
. . . and back down to get her again.

I think about these little victories as I watch her learn to read, and to speak more clearly. To swim. To write. Everything her sister did with ease is a bit of a fight for Katy, even though she doesn’t really realize that. She does it with perseverance and determination, not knowing any different.

Sitting up large and in charge.
Sitting up large and in charge.

I think about these little victories when I think about others coming back from strokes and other neurological issues. I think about children with other disabilities that may have to take even smaller steps to get to those milestones, and how big those little victories actually are.

As my older, typical daughter does amazing things in the pool, on the lacrosse field, and in school, I appreciate how many teeny tiny steps she takes to get to that amazing. Steps she doesn’t even realize she’s taking, but I know. Because I saw how many teeny tiny moves it took Katy to roll over.

Standing and walking.
Standing and walking.

And now, onto Eimear McBrides’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing.

I realized, when I decided to review this one, that it would have been better suited to yesterday–Bloomsday–and my ode to Ulysses and James Joyce. Because Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is reminiscent of Joyce, experimentally and completely written in stream-of-consciousness. Also a hint of Virginia Woolf and T.S. Elliot, I wonder if McBride wasn’t born a century too late.

The Premise

A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is the story of an Irish girl living with her brain damaged brother and her sometimes fervently Catholic mother, trying to figure out her place in the world. Dark and disturbing, the main characters remain unnamed, but their humanity shines through.

Told in first person, very staccato, stream-of-consciousness style, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is the bare bones tale of a smart Irish girl coming to terms with her family, her sexuality, and her place in the world. Filled with sadness, the girl’s life is a mess of acting out aggressively and sexually. Because this whole book is lived inside of her thoughts, the reader is with her as she struggles with her overt sexuality and the danger this brings, the guilt she feels from that (especially living in a strict Catholic family), the the abuse and trauma she endures at the hands of those who are supposed to love and support her.

This a story straight from the mind of a girl who needs counseling and support, but who gets it from no one.

My Thoughts

From the start, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing teeters on the edge of madness, and the writing style highlights the insanity that is lurking not so silently in this girl’s head.

McBride’s book is a difficult read, but well worth it. Totally original, she has found a style that really adds to the darkness of the story. I can’t say I loved the story, but the whole thing was well worth my time and effort.

Five stars, but don’t read it if you’re not ready to work for little return. For me, the originality and the wordcraft is worth just about everything.



I love to read; writing is my outlet. My blog is my way to combine the two, with a some life stories thrown in for good measure.

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