Thank you to Little, Brown and Company for providing me with a copy of Maude Julien’s memoir, The Only Girl in the World, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT – Maude Julien recounts her traumatic childhood, being raised in France by parents with a bizarre belief system that causes them to raise their daughter with extreme deprivation and cruelty.
LIKE– The Only Girl in the World is intense and impossible to put down. Julien’s parents have a belief that their daughter must be raised with strict rules and odd punishments, to make her tough and a survivalist. Her parents regulate every aspect of her life, including the precise time she wakes up, how many times she chews her food, and the exact spot she is allowed to sit on a chair. As soon as she can talk, she is given intense lessons in a variety of subjects, with the expectation that she should naturally be able to understand subjects that are taught to much older children and adults. The ability to play musical instruments is prized and she must learn several instruments, sometimes spending up to ten hours a day studying. On top of her education, she is given manual labor tasks, working along side laborers in the gated house where she lives, a house that she doesn’t leave for years at a time.
As if this wasn’t mad enough, Julien is given other challenges, such as being woken up in the middle of the night and forced to sit still in a pitch-black basement with rats. Her father forces her watch the monthly slaughtering of animals on their property and when she accidentally touches an electrified fence and flinches, he forces her to hold the fence on a regular basis to toughen up.
Julien’s mother plays an interesting role in this whole situation. When Julien’s mother was a child, her parents were poor and Julien’s father offered to buy her. He raised her and groomed her to be his wife, specifically to carry a child that she would then educate. Julien’s mother is complex. She is often just as tortured as her daughter, at the receiving end of her husband’s crazy ideas and anger. However, she is also envious of her daughter and willfully participates in the punishments. In the end, Julien shows forgiveness towards her mother, towards the acceptance that her mother was raised as part of this ideology and felt trapped.
Speaking of Ideology, Julien’s father spouts off confusing beliefs that involve the illuminati, Nazis, and various philosophers. As a reader, it’s clear that he is not in his right mind, as his ideas are not only muddled, but contradictory. Seeing it through the lens of Julien’s childhood, it’s easy to see how these ideas, coupled with her larger than life father, kept her in fear. It’s exciting to see her realize the truth and begin to rebel as a teen.
The most touching parts of her memoir involve Julien’s relationship with her pets. This was tricky to navigate, as her parents showed cruelty to the animals as well and Julien had to hide much of her affection, so that the animals wouldn’t be further punished or used as a way to hurt her. The animals and Julien’s love for books and writing (activities she also must hide) are what keeps her alive.
DISLIKE– Nothing. The Only Girl in the World is often upsetting and it’s emotionally difficult to read, but it’s also an incredible survival story.
RECOMMEND– Yes! Julien has had a difficult, but fascinating childhood. You will be in disbelief at some of the trauma that she had to endure and you’ll admire her perseverance. The Only Girl in the World is a page-turner and must-read memoir.