JACKET NOTES | In friendship, there's hope

'Girls of Little Hope' by Dale Halvorsen and Sam Beckbessinger focuses on the relationship between three teenage girls in small-town America

25 June 2023 - 00:00 By Dale Halvorsen and Sam Beckbessinger
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are the authors of 'Girls of Little Hope'.
Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen are the authors of 'Girls of Little Hope'.
Image: Supplied

Girls of Little Hope is a story about two teenage girls searching for their missing best friend. Instead, they stumble on a strange secret that will change their lives forever. But really, it’s a story about the monstrousness of adolescence and finding your way back to your friends.

Both of us grew up feeling like weirdos. Dale was a comic book and horror nerd in a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the Natal South Coast. Sam was a queer oddball living in Centurion who was obsessed with The Lord of the Rings and William Blake. What got us through was finding other weirdos.

The story takes place in America in 1996, around the time we were surviving our own monstrous teenage years. Girl power was on the rise, the web was arriving in your home, the world was changing so fast, catapulting us towards a new millennium. But like us, living in ultraconservative towns we were desperate to leave, our protagonists feel like the greatest decade in history is happening elsewhere, to other people.

by Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen.
Girls of Little Hope by Sam Beckbessinger and Dale Halvorsen.
Image: Supplied

Our heroes — Donna, Kat and Rae — live in a tiny town called Little Hope (population 8,302), where there’s no entertainment except drinking and ennui. They keep each other sane with all the fervour of teen girl friendships, doing some amateur sleuthing into the town’s most enduring mysteries and making zines.

Writing this novel together felt like making a book-length zine. An idea triggered by a mash-up of a disturbing scene in a cult 1970s sci-fi film and a fascination with true-crime mysteries mutated and grew over the years like something out of John Carpenter’s The Thing. It was a long-term game of make-believe that spanned years, countries (Sam moved to the UK), personal epiphanies (Dale was diagnosed as autistic), a pandemic, break-ups, crises and a great deal of karaoke. The two of us fill the gaps for each other: Dale is a cinephile with killer plot instincts and Sam a bibliophile who obsesses over the crafting of a sentence, but we share a love of body horror and telling stories. Friendship is the heart of this novel. Friends can help you hold on to the things that make you delightfully weird. Friends can help you grow up without growing less strange.

There are frightening things in this book. But as horror legend Wes Craven once said: “The first monster you have to scare the audience with is yourself.” And the real monster in this book is puberty.

Being a teenager is freaky. It can feel like your body is not your body any more, shifting like some grotesque time-lapse photography, and that you become a stranger to yourself. Sometimes that stranger is pretty gross, full of rage and confusing urges (not to mention BO). You’re not always in control of your actions because hormones are a cruel master. Especially if you’re a teenage girl, other people suddenly have a lot of opinions about your body. It’s hypersexualised, criticised and controlled, or made into a source of shame. In all this messiness it can be hard to hold onto your sense of who you really are. For both of us growing up, having friends who truly saw us, and accepted us, is what allowed us to hang our sense of self through the dark forest of adolescence.

The heart of this story is the friendship between three girls who have found each other at a crucial time, who hurt each other, but need each other, who save each other and wound each other, and who — ultimately — choose each other.

Girls of Little Hope by Dale Halvorsen and Sam Beckbessinger is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers

Click here to buy the book

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