The Girls

Chloe Higgins

The Girls
Pan Macmillan Australia
27 August 2019

The Girls

Chloe Higgins

Winner of the People’s Choice Award in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2020

In 2005, Chloe Higgins was seventeen years old. She and her mother, Rhonda, stayed home so that she could revise for her exams while her two younger sisters Carlie and Lisa went skiing with their father. On the way back from their trip, their car veered off the highway, flipped on its side and burst into flames. Both her sisters were killed. Their father walked away from the accident with only minor injuries.

This book is about what happened next.

In a memoir of breathtaking power, Chloe Higgins describes the heartbreaking aftermath of that one terrible day. It is a story of grieving, and learning to leave grief behind, for anyone who has ever loved, and lost.

‘Higgins spares nothing in her telling of the slow violence of grief, in the puzzlement of transformation and the skewing of sound mind from one instant of catastrophe…An exacting act of detonation, The Girls bares a talented writer’s foundations at the same time as it raises the spirit of survival.’ - Kate Holden, author of In My Skin  


I originally questioned the choice of title for this book as the words ‘girl/s’ are so commonly used in this context. I wondered if a different title could have been chosen. Now that I have read The Girls by Chloe Higgins, I realise that it was the only possible choice.

When she is seventeen, Higgins stays home to study for her HSC exams while her two younger sisters, Carlie and Lisa, go on an annual ski trip with their father. On their return, the three are involved in a horrific car accident. While the girls’ father is pulled out from the driver’s seat, the two sisters are incinerated in the back.

The Girls recounts Higgins’s experiences from this event to the present day. The way each member of the surviving family handles their grief differs enormously. Higgins’s main reaction isshock; she feels the memory of her sisters fading and, after time in a psychiatric hospital, becomes involved in drugs and sex work. She does this partly to get a sense of freedom from her parents; especially from her mother, for whom Higgins must now represent three children. The great tragic figure of this story, however, is the father. Consumed by guilt that he has killed two of his daughters, his diary entries following the accident are heartbreaking.

Themes include the effect of trauma on mind and body, the burden of surviving, mental health, and co-dependency. The definition of memoir is also openly explored and queried as often what Higgins recalls differs from what others remember. Parts of the book take on meta elements; the author includes some of her editorial comments and often discusses the writing of her book with others (including their questions and criticisms). Higgins has made some brave decisions inwriting this memoir, especially in relation to the consequences for her parents, but the beautiful final chapter and last line make me think she has written it for all the family; especially for the girls.

Amanda Rayner is the returns officer at Readings Carlton.

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