The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle
The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is a hugely relevant, gripping and enjoyable book. It’s moving and full of warmth. We follow the lives of Caylin and Reema, two girls (aged 11 and 12 respectively) who live on a pretty bleak housing estate in Glasgow. Drumhill has been home to Caylin all her life; Reema is a Syrian refugee and she and her family have only moved there recently. In alternating chapters, we hear the story from each girl’s perspective.
To the outside world Caylin seems unlikeable: she’s surly, a bully, and a shoplifter. However, these behaviours stem from a troubled home life which she keeps secret. Her mom is unemployed and an alcoholic. Caylin has been forced to assume the role of young carer and is pretty much left to fend for herself. She shoplifts food to survive. Reema too is misunderstood by others: she speaks a different language and wears a hijab. The similarities between the two girls continue; both girls have experienced trauma. Caylin has seen her mother beaten by a former partner. Reema has lived through the atrocities of war: bombings and gas attacks. Now she faces Islamophobic racism. Reading about these struggles and hardships fosters empathy, and one of the strengths of this book is its ability to let us see the world through these young girls’ eyes.
There is a third female voice too – that of Hurriyah the injured fox who is struggling to care for her young. Her story runs parallel to the girls’ stories and is beautifully told in a series of poems.
This is the story of an unlikely friendship forged amidst pain and hardship. The relationship has a shaky start. Both girls are brittle and cautious, each wary of the other. However, they are brought together by the injured fox and her cubs whom they both try to protect. They share another interest too: running. Reema, nicknamed the White Gazelle by her brother, is proud of her speed and stamina. Whereas Caylin’s ability as a runner is mixed up with painful memories of her grandparents and it’s a talent she tries to hide. As the story develops, the girls learn to support each other with their running.
Another of the book’s strongest themes is the importance of family. With her brother missing in Syria and her father’s health deteriorating, Reema’s family unit seems broken. Yet their strong family bond sustains them all. Reema comes to realise that although their physical home in Syria may be lost, home is wherever the family is together. Similarly, Caylin is eventually sustained and bolstered by her memories of her grandparents. There is also hope for Caylin with the arrival of Brian, her mom’s new boyfriend. He is a caring and loving man, and a calming and unifying family presence.
The Fox Girl and the White Gazelle is moving and life-affirming and full of hope and friendship. I loved it. Reema and Caylin are nuanced, believable lead characters who you root for from the start.