READING CHALLENGE BOOK REVIEW: The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian

Publication Date: April 6, 2021
Format: Paperback
Genre:  Southern Fiction

Publisher: Sourcebooks/Landmark
388 pages
Buy: Kindle | Paperback


Set in 1920s Mississippi, this debut Southern novel weaves a beautiful and harrowing story of two teenage girls cast in an unlikely partnership through murder—perfect for readers of Where the Crawdads Sing and If the Creek Don't Rise.

Ada promised herself she would never go back to the Trace, to her hard life on the swamp and her harsh father. But now, after running away to Baton Rouge and briefly knowing a different kind of life, she finds herself with nowhere to go but back home. And she knows there will be a price to pay with her father.

Matilda, daughter of a sharecropper, is from the other side of the Trace. Doing what she can to protect her family from the whims and demands of some particularly callous locals is an ongoing struggle. She forms a plan to go north, to pack up the secrets she's holding about her life in the South and hang them on the line for all to see in Ohio.

As the two girls are drawn deeper into a dangerous world of bootleggers and moral corruption, they must come to terms with the complexities of their tenuous bond and a hidden past that links them in ways that could cost them their lives.


Set in the 1920's in the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. Two girls, one black one white come together in a friendship based on need and secrets.  Ada returns home to the stilt house in the Trace, pregnant and unwed, to her abusive trapper father.  Mathilda, the daughter of a sharecropper and in hiding, meets Ada at just the right time.  Together they form a tentative alliance each helping each other out.  But Mathilda is restless and angry. She is smart, too smart to be living in a swamp, and angry at all the injustice she sees around her.  Ada is simple, she doesn't have big dreams, is very naive and is scared of her own shadow. 

Filled with the racial injustices, poverty, and misogyny of the time this book can be a tough read at times.  Brutal men populate this book, but ultimately the strong female characters survive and thrive. Mathilda gives Ada the confidence to survive on her own and Ada teaches Mathilda that not all white people are the same and that friendship doesn't have to come with strings.  

Beautifully written I couldn't put this book down.  Mustian lets you feel the thick swamp air, the victory of survival and the cruelty that men in power think they have over others. 

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