The Talk-Funny Girl, by Roland Merullo
We first meet Marjorie, the protagonist of this novel, on the day of her 17th birthday when she starts out to look for work. It's immediately clear that her family is a shambles and a scary place to grow up. It's also clear that she has a strength and tenacity at her core, despite mysterious dark circumstances. The prologue also has told us that the narrator survives and lives well, so we have that solid assurance that we need to follow the often harrowing story.
Only slowly do we learn just what her parents are caught up in and the meanings of some of the punishments, "facing" and "boying", that are constantly threatening our heroine. She became dearer and dearer to me as the ugliness of her background was revealed more clearly. How can she get out of here? She's been raised to believe that all the punishments are part of a true system.
The hallmark of the thoroughness of her brainwashing is the private family dialect in which she speaks. "I come for a try for paying work," she says to a possible employer, and “I couldn’t not say on them” to indicate that she can’t lie to her parents. Her teachers try to correct her speech and, sensing a spark in her, attempt to lead her out of the morass, but her bonds to these abusive parents are so strong that she continues to talk funny and endure the taunts of others rather than try to make a break for it--and where would she go? One of the strengths of Merullo's writing is how he convinces us that a child could indeed be sucked into such a whirlpool (as indeed children are, every day, every year).
Only slowly does our heroine find a way to move out, and the dance of this change in her is the core of the book. In addition, the plot involves revelations about family and church that are startling and frightening, revealing just how far Marjorie has to move to escape. This book haunted me with its redemptive, strong story. I recommend it highly.