Book Title: The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle
Author: Victoria Williamson
Publication Date: April 2018
Length: 272 pages
Suggested Reading Age: Primary 6 and 7/Age 10 – 12
Themes: Empathy, Friendship, Loneliness, Displacement
“But this is not home.
It hurts, it hurts.
No, this is not home.
This book was recommended to me off the back of finishing The Boy at the Back of the Class. As part of my own personal journey to better educate myself, and make sure that I read a diverse selection of books, I have also made it a priority to ensure that the children in my class have access to books that are representative and relatable for all of them. I was delighted to see that The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle deals with issues faced by asylum seekers, as well as poverty and its effect on young people. Even better, this book is set in Glasgow, so feels very close to home for me. Author, Victoria Williamson, is a primary teacher, with firsthand experience of working with children and young people from deprived areas, many of whom were asylum seekers. As a result, I was confident that Williamson’s debut novel would deliver a sympathetic and compassionate perspective on this crucial issue. I was not disappointed.
Reema is a twelve-year-old asylum seeker who has fled Syria with her family, to seek a safe refuge in Scotland. While she is no longer at risk from war, Reema misses Syria and can’t imagine ever thinking of her flat in Drumhill as home. She can’t speak the language, the food tastes strange and the sky is always grey and dreary. On top of that, she is preoccupied with worrying about her injured father and wondering if her older brother, Jamal, managed to safely escape from Syria. Not to mention the awful experience of waking throughout the night thinking that she is still in a war zone.
Another girl from Reema’s class, Caylin, also lives in the same block of flats. Caylin is lonely and secretly worries about where her next meal is coming from. Her mum has been out of work since the death of Caylin’s grandpa and is struggling to cope, often turning to alcohol to get her through the day. Caylin bullies and steals from other children at school, so that she can buy food, and lives in constant fear of social services finding out that her mum isn’t capable of looking after her.
Williamson skillfully weaves together Reema and Caylin’s stories through alternating perspectives from the two girls. As the narrative unfolds, it seems impossible that Reema and Caylin will ever become friends. However, following the discovery of a family of foxes in their bin shed, the girls begin to work together to nurture the injured mother back to health and keep their discovery secret. Despite their differences, an unlikely friendship quickly begins to blossom between the girls.
Both of the protagonists in this story are portrayed in a realistic way: each girl has her flaws and insecurities, but as the story progresses, we begin to better understand and empathise with their motives. Although they come from different backgrounds, ultimately, both Reema and Caylin are searching for the same thing – a sense of safety, security and belonging. I challenge any reader to fail to feel empathy and compassion for these characters. I’m sure that you will be rooting for them the whole way through.
The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is an important book that deals with current and topical issues. It should be a staple in every upper primary school classroom. I feel that children will be able to relate to at least some aspects of the characters’ lives and that this book will help to build discussions around empathy, friendship and acceptance. This is a book that I can’t wait to share with my class next session, and one that will stay with me for a long time.
Miss Gordon’s Rating: 5/5