– Short Review –
A powerful and emotional story about belonging, loss and home. A school bully and a refugee girl are bound together when they discover an injured fox and her cubs. They must overcome their differences to work together to keep the foxes safe. As they do they discover they both love to run. A story about outsiders and how hard it can be to be yourself and fit in, no matter where you come from.
Other books you might also like if you like this one:
A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines, Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo
– Long review –
The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is told from two main points of view: Caylin, a school bully, whose mum has been drinking a lot for the last year since Caylin’s grandad died; and Reema, a refugee from the civil war in Syria. Each chapter is told from their alternating points of view. Caylin, is poor and has had to look after herself and her mum for too long. And Reema, with her family, has just moved into the same close (or small apartment block, for non-Scottish readers) as Caylin.
Caylin is a bully and telling the story from this point of view is very interesting. We get to see what is causing Caylin to steel from other children. The writing is so good that we feel for Caylin and come to sympathise with her situation.
Equally, Reema’s view of living in Scotland as an outsider is eye opening. She doesn’t speak much of the language. She looks different than most, and her a religion is not the same as many people in her new country. Reema longs for her old home and the times before the war, but her family is also scarred by the conflict they fled. They have lost people, including Reema’s older brother Jamal, when they fled the fighting.
There is a third point of view in the book, that of the fox. I really like how Victoria Williamson handled this. The fox speaks to us only occasionally, and when she does it is in the form of a poem.
The fox is what initially brings Caylin and Reema together. She is injured and has five cubs she must, but cannot, protect. Each girl finds the fox separately behind the communal bins in their back garden. They each feed the mother, so that she can feed her cubs. Inevitably, they cross paths and, despite not wanting to, their desire to save the foxes brings them together.
Slowly and always with the possibility of conflict they start to work reluctantly together. For both girls it gives them something else to worry about in their difficult lives. As their lives are drawn together, they also discover they share a talent for running. The question is whether they can overcome their differences for themselves and the foxes, when the rest of the world seems set against them.
On a different point, the book itself as a thing, is worth talking about. The publishers, Kelpies, have made a gorgeous book. The cover design suits the contents inside. The page layout and the wonderful Islamic geometric designs in the corner of the pages, and the fox and gazelle images that mark the end of every chapter, are thoughtful touches that reflect that this novel is more than just another story. On top of all this, the author is also giving 20% of her profits to the Scottish Refugee Council.
To sum up, the writing in this book is beautifully simple and often powerful, really capturing the voices of its two female characters. This means the book can explore difficult issues, including immigration, bullying and child carers with honesty and a sense of realism. The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is also not glamorous, telling the story of people who often don’t have their lives put into words. These tales aren’t any less interesting and compelling, quite the opposite. I would go so far as saying this is an important book, a book that has an important message without being preachy, told in a way that draws the reader into the lives of its characters.
Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is published by Kelpies and is available here.
Victoria Williamson is a primary school teacher with a Master’s degree in special needs education. She has worked as a science teacher and teacher trainer in Cameroon and Malawi, an English as a foreign language teacher in China, and as a special needs teacher in the UK. Victoria’s experiences teaching young children in a deprived area, many of whom were asylum seekers, inspired her first novel, The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle, an uplifting tale of friendship between Glasgow girl Caylin and Syrian refugee Reema.
Visit Victoria’s website here.
Reviewed by Daniel Soule
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