February 2021

The Good Girls

By Sonia Faleiro
Review by
When two teenage girls from a low-caste, high-poverty farming region in India were found hanging from a tree, it lay bare caste divisions, family strife, political corruption and stubborn attitudes toward women, girls and sexual purity.
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The past several years have ushered in a wave of social upheaval and, in turn, a people’s revolution, whether by marching in the streets or by quietly but decisively reforming outdated values. These changes aren’t limited to the United States, however. India has also seen its share of shifting attitudes, particularly toward women, girls and sexual violence.

In 2012, though India was listed as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be female, its citizens were shocked into outrage by the rape and murder of a young medical student as she returned home from watching a movie. Mass protests and publicity stirred the government to reconsider how its justice system tried sexual crimes. 

In the wake of these events, journalist Sonia Faleiro traveled to India to investigate and document the status of Indian girls and women. Before she arrived, however, a second incident tore through the country: Two teenage girls in Uttar Pradesh, a low-caste, high-poverty farming region, were found hanging from a tree in an orchard not far from their homes. What erupted afterward lay bare caste divisions, family strife, political corruption and stubborn attitudes toward women, girls and sexual purity.

The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing is a thoughtful, careful narrative of these events and an examination of the many issues influencing this tangled case. Faleiro reconstructs scenes using multiple thorough interviews with the people who were present, and she takes care to never insert herself into her retelling. Through her, however, the reader comes to know the people involved. Padma and Lalli (renamed in the narrative due to Indian law prohibiting the release of the names of victims) were two girls who bear so many of the utterly familiar hallmarks of teenage girldom. Their families, friends and neighbors, in whom love, tradition and despair interweave, become familiar as well. The reader also comes to know the cultural topography of India as a country in flux, where tradition and the rigid “safeguarding” of women hold fast in some corners, while in others women wear jeans and ride public transportation while their parents plan to send them on to higher education.

Even as corruption and hope vie with one another politically and poverty touches everything, The Good Girls never loses sight of the human heart of its story. It brings us close to these people and their problems and heartaches and, in so doing, makes us examine our own.

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The Good Girls

The Good Girls

By Sonia Faleiro
ISBN 9780802158208

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