I couldn’t imagine one day where I might be happy, or even sad in an ordinary way. I’d run away, but I couldn’t seem to forget.Dovie, That Green Eyed Girl
That Green Eyed Girl tells two stories: one set in 1955, the other in 1975. The first is the story of two women, Gillian and Dovie, living together under the guise of lodgers. Then, twenty years on and in the same apartment they used to live in, we meet teenaged Ava who has to take care of her mother as her health steadily declines until she is eventually committed to a so-called sanatorium. At first, their lives seem hardly connected. But then, a package appears and, as Ava begins to investigate in the hopes of reuniting sender and recipient, more and more characters emerge who are central to the mystery.
In 1955, for a blissful moment, everything is fine. Dovie and Gillian enjoy their secret little enclave — until they are found out and subsequently blackmailed, by the school’s busybody secretary. Their struggle to hold onto each other in the face of the potential consequences should they be outed — in 1955, institutionalisation and electroshock therapy — is heartbreaking. Told entirely from Dovie’s point of view, we don’t hear the whole truth from Gillian until it is far, far too late.
Twenty years later, Ava stumbles over a package sent to their address: sent from Paris, and containing mementos of Gillian and Dovie’s life together — but Dovie’s photo, which she remembers taking just at the beginning of the story, has been defaced: LIAR. Determined to find out the truth and, perhaps, to set the record straight, Ava and her best friend Viola start digging.
As the mystery of the sender’s identity unwinds, the story draws you deeper into the lives of Ava and her parents, and the ill-fated intrusion into Gillian and Dovie’s safe haven.
There are a few twists that are foreshadowed well enough to be satisfying for the reader to predict but not too heavily signposted so as to still be a surprise; only I found the interlude with Dovie in the gay jazz club a little too contrived. I won’t spoil it here, but I can say that while it does tie the character ensemble together in a way that rounds out the story as a whole pretty well, the execution could have been smoother. The events also add an element of strife and heap on another load of guilt for Dovie that nevertheless feels just slightly disconnected from the fallout of her relationship with Gillian.
The other thing that didn’t gel for me was Ava’s persistent heartache over Cal, her schoolmate crush — I understand that this part of the story exists to flesh out Ava’s character and to give her something to yearn for, but for me the lengthy pool party scene disrupted the flow of the story a little.
A subplot that was much better realised, by contrast, was Dovie’s visit with her older sister, Franny. The heartache that that visit reveals and which receives such a bittersweet nod at the end was a well-made mirror to Dovie’s own experience.
The writing is strong and the voices of Dovie and Ava, respectively, are very well realised. What they have in common is a sense of naiveté owed to their youth — as even Dovie is hardly out of her early twenties in 1955 — as well as resilience even as everything goes wrong. But they’re their own persons and their inner lives have range.
Overall, I very much enjoyed reading That Green Eyed Girl, and would thoroughly recommend it to readers who enjoy mystery with a touch of psychological thriller.
Genre Literary thriller
Narrative voice First person, alternating POV
Content warnings Blackmail, institutional/medical abuse, medical trauma, homophobia, psychological abuse and gaslighting, parental neglect
Maturity rating 17+