The Girl in the Road
by Monica Byrne
Format: Hardcover, 323 pages
Cover Art: Eduardo Jose Bernardino/E+/Getty Images
Release Date: May 20, 2014
"When Meena finds snakebites on her chest, her worst fears are realized: someone is after her and she must flee India. As she plots her exit, she learns of the Trail, an energy-harvesting bridge spanning the Arabian Sea that has become a refuge for itinerant vagabonds and loners on the run. This is her salvation. Slipping out in the cover of night, with a knapsack full of supplies including a pozit GPS, a scroll reader, and a sealable waterproof pod, she sets off for Ethiopia, the place of her birth.
Meanwhile, Mariama, a young girl in Africa, is forced to flee her home. She joins up with a caravan of misfits heading across the Sahara. She is taken in by Yemaya, a beautiful and enigmatic woman who becomes her protector and confidante. They are trying to reach Addis Abba, Ethiopia, a metropolis swirling with radical politics and rich culture. But Mariama will find a city far different than she ever expected—romantic, turbulent, and dangerous."
The Girl in the Road is the debut novel of Monica Byrne. The writing is solid and competently written, thus fairly engaging for the reader. The blurb however is a little misleading. The book is billed as sort of a near-future thriller and adventure following two women as they flee their homes to Ethiopia, one headed west from India across the Indian Ocean and the other east from the coast of the Atlantic. Instead it is more of a character piece, examining the women's lives and their emotional traumas as they make their journeys.
So in a character piece the important thing is to make the characters relatable to the reader. However, unlike the prose the characterization is a little under-par. I just never connected to the characters at all. Especially because, and I don't feel this is a spoiler because it becomes apparent quite early on, that both Meena and Mariama are somewhat mentally unstable. I don't always mind this kind of plot device, but if I can't connect with the characters it just makes it all the more difficult. It doesn't help that as the mental unbalances become more and more obvious, the story becomes even more nonsensical.
The Girl in the Road is an intriguing, but frustrating read because I never connected to the characters and thus was ultimately unfulfilling. On the plus side, the book is set in both India and Africa with Ethiopia the ultimate destination for characters who are both women of color. For those that care about that element and can relate to the story, this may be a worthwhile book for you.