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Reviews of The Forgotten Girls by Monica Potts

The Forgotten Girls

A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America

by Monica Potts

The Forgotten Girls by Monica Potts X
The Forgotten Girls by Monica Potts
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  • First Published:
    May 2023, 272 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 30, 2024, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jacob Lenz-Avila
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About this Book

Book Summary

Talented and ambitious, Monica Potts and her best friend, Darci, were both determined to make something of themselves. How did their lives turn out so different?

Growing up gifted and working-class poor in the foothills of the Ozarks, Monica and Darci became fast friends. The girls bonded over a shared love of reading and learning, even as they navigated the challenges of their tumultuous family lives and declining town—broken marriages, alcohol abuse, and shuttered stores and factories. They pored over the giant map in their middle-school classroom, tracing their fingers over the world that awaited them, vowing to escape. In the end, Monica left Clinton for college and fulfilled her dreams, but Darci, along with many in their circle of friends, did not.

Years later, working as a journalist covering poverty, Potts discovered what she already intuitively knew about the women in Arkansas: Their life expectancy had dropped steeply—the sharpest such fall in a century. This decline has been attributed to "deaths of despair"—suicide, alcoholism, and drug overdoses—but Potts knew their causes were too complex to identify in a sociological study. She had grown up with these women, and when she saw Darci again, she found that her childhood friend—addicted to drugs, often homeless, a single mother—was now on track to becoming a statistic.

In this gripping narrative, Potts deftly pinpoints the choices that sent her and Darci on such different paths and then widens the lens to explain why those choices are so limited. The Forgotten Girls is a profound, compassionate look at a population in trouble, and a uniquely personal account of the way larger forces, such as inheritance, education, religion, and politics, shape individual lives.

Prologue

One day when I was six, my parents hauled my two younger sisters and me around Van Buren County with a realtor, looking for a new house to rent. At the time, we lived in a run-down trailer in Shirley, Arkansas, but my parents wanted to move back to our hometown of Clinton— ten miles away, and at just over twenty-five hundred people, the biggest town in the area— where my dad wanted to start his own plumbing business. None of the places that we looked at were affordable for us, or if they were, they were not in livable condition. I have a sharp memory of my parents taking us gamely into the attic of a small house, promising it could be our bedroom and that we could climb the stairs every night on our own, only to find part of the roof missing and dead autumn leaves all over the floor. We bounced down unpaved rutted dirt roads and curvy country highways in our Ford LTD station wagon, up and down the hills, generously called mountains, that form the southern edge of ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Part biography and part investigative journalism, The Forgotten Girls is dense yet very readable, balancing engaging storytelling and pathos on the one hand with enlightening social science on the other. In fewer than 300 pages, Potts imparts the facts of several complicated social ills like fundamentalist power structures, the opioid epidemic, and America's educational and racial caste systems, while also illustrating what it's like to be caught up in them through the empathetic lens of a strained but genuine friendship...continued

Full Review Members Only (1029 words)

(Reviewed by Jacob Lenz-Avila).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Potts pointedly examines the complicated relationship between two childhood friends who experienced radically different life outcomes, and she creates a compelling sociological and cultural portrait that illuminates the silent hopelessness destroying not just her own hometown, but rural communities across America. A hauntingly cleareyed and poignant memoir with strong, illustrative reportage.

Publishers Weekly
[A] compassionate look at the rapid decline in life expectancy among 'the least educated white Americans'...Potts draws on extensive interviews with friends and family to reveal how poverty, generational trauma, substance abuse, and the suffocating righteousness of the evangelical church limit women's options...It's a potent study of what ails the depressed pockets of rural America.

Author Blurb Beth Macy, author of Dopesick and Raising Lazarus
The Forgotten Girls is much more than a memoir; it's the unflinching story of rural women trying to live in the most rugged, ultra-religious and left-behind places in America. Rendering what she sees with poignancy and whip-smart analyses, Monica Potts took a gutsy, open-hearted journey home and turned it into art.

Author Blurb Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of The Third Rainbow Girl
In a landscape where writing grounded in true events is expected to be either objective reporting about events from which the writer is fully detached or confessional lived experience, Monica Potts has created a rare mix of reportage and memoir that brings the best of both forms to bear on an empathetic and nuanced examination, told from an insider's perspective, of what it means to be working class, white, and female in America today.

Author Blurb Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train
A tender memoir of a lifelong friendship and a shocking account of hardship in rural America, The Forgotten Girls is beautifully written, painstakingly researched and deeply affecting.

Reader Reviews

Christeena

Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad
The Forgotten Girls is beautiful and hard, a deeply reported memoir of a place, a friendship, a childhood and a country riven by systemic injustices transformed into individual tragedies. Monica Potts is a gifted writer; I read this extraordinary ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Harm Reduction

An artistic collage of square photographs showing different types of drugs spelling out the words Stop the Drug War in the center, by DMTrott In The Forgotten Girls, journalist Monica Potts revisits her declining Arkansas hometown and her childhood best friend Darci, who is locked in a struggle with drug addiction that traditional interventions—stigmatization, directing the victim to God for help—have failed to cure. While Darci's struggle involves a pattern of minor crimes, jail time, faith-based rehabs, relapses and unhealthy relationships that offer drugs and security, Potts notes that another high school friend of theirs manages to hold a job, take care of her family and generally function while taking meth daily. "I thought Darci needed a way to use and still be safe," Potts writes. "Advocates call this harm reduction: prioritizing keeping users alive rather ...

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Read-Alikes

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