Invisible girls novel based in Portland

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By Michelle Barnhartbook-invisible-girls

Reviewing the book, “Invisible Girls”, by Sarah Thebarge.

The Invisible Girls is a double helix of a memoir, two stories spiraling around each other. One strand relates her struggle with breast cancer which she contracted in her 20’s, and the other narrates her relationship with a Somali immigrant family.

Although raised in a strict Christian home, when cancer struck, Thebarge struggled to find answers to the questions “Why?” and “Where is God in all of this?” These chapters were raw and honest to the point of making me uncomfortable, but no one had any answers.

Needing a fresh start, she moved to Portland and one day met a mother from Somalia with five young daughters but no money and limited English. These chapters detailed how utterly unequipped the family was for life in the US (for instance, they didn’t know to close the refrigerator door after they put food in), how quickly she fell in love with the girls, and how she worked to help them acclimate to a new culture. This family was “invisible;” living in plain sight, nobody noticed their situation or offered help.

Thebarge writes clearly and concisely; I could imagine bringing a pizza to the girls and sitting on the floor to eat it with them, Somali-style, and I felt her anguish and confusion when her well-planned life fell apart as she battled her cancer. However, the book could have been better edited; there are a couple of loose ends, and while the two strands of the helix do eventually meet, it happens so briefly that the point is almost overlooked.

The memoir ends with the Somali family moving to a new city to be closer to relatives. Thebarge never does get a direct answer to her question “Why? Instead she finds a powerful metaphor to demonstrate God’s love for his children in the midst of their pain, and her story closes in hope, and with a challenge for her readers to look for “invisible” people in their own world.

(Proceeds from the sale of this book will go into a college fund for the five girls.)