A fierce and illuminating debut from FOLD founder Jael Richardson about a young woman who must find the courage to determine her own future and secure her freedom Set in an imagined world in which the most vulnerable are forced to buy their freedom by working off their debt to society, Gutter Child uncovers a nation divided into the privileged Mainland and the policed Gutter. In this world, Elimina Dubois is one of only 100 babies taken from the Gutter and raised in the land of opportunity as part of a social experiment led by the Mainland government. But when her Mainland mother dies, Elimina finds herself all alone, a teenager forced into an unfamiliar life of servitude, unsure of who she is and where she belongs. Elimina is sent to an academy with new rules and expectations where she befriends Gutter children who are making their own way through the Gutter System in whatever ways they know how. When Elimina's life takes another unexpected turn, she will discover that what she needs more than anything may not be the freedom she longs for after all. Richardson's Gutter Child reveals one young woman's journey through a fractured world of heartbreaking disadvantages and shocking injustices. Elimina is a modern heroine in an altered but all too recognizable reality who must find the strength within herself to forge her future and defy a system that tries to shape her destiny. (From HarperAvenue)
Jael Richardson is the founder and the artistic director of the Festival for Literary Diversity (FOLD) and the books columnist for q on CBC Radio. She is also the author of the nonfiction book The Stone Thrower, which was also adapted into a picture book of the same name. Gutter Child is her first work of fiction.
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"I know this wasn't the plan," she says. "But let's make the most of it, hey?"
Her voice is high and hopeful, and I hate the way it sounds, like forgetting the life I had is my best option. Like that's even possible.
"I really think you might like it here. I think your mother would have really liked this place," she says.
I want to tell her that what Mother would probably like is to be living instead of dead, to be back home with me instead of wherever it is she is now. But Miss Femia doesn't have children, and people without children always share silly bits of wisdom, like it will all go to waste if they don't.
"Yes, let's make the most of it," I say, turning up the corners of my mouth as high as I can manage. Which isn't much.
"You can do this, Elimina," she says, wrapping her fingers around the doorknob, holding the swamp-coloured door with her back. "You can find happiness here."
But happiness isn't something a kid like me can afford to hold out for.
From Gutter Child by Jael Richardson ©2021. Published by HarperCollins.
"Gutter Child is connected to my memoir, The Stone Thrower. When I was working on The Stone Thrower, we went to my father's hometown. We met a young man who was the same age as me, and he was living in the projects, where my dad had grown up. He was talking to my dad, about how my father would know his mother and they used to live next door. It was that moment that actually started Gutter Child.
I was thinking about how, in one generation, my father had changed the whole trajectory of my life. I had never lived in a low-income community or known any kind of poverty.
"I was thinking about how, in one generation, my father had changed the whole trajectory of my life. I had never lived in a low-income community or known any kind of poverty. I started asking questions about what it looks like to grow up in a world that's designed for your failure."