“But does a file count as fact? Or isn’t every rendering a lie?”
– Sheila O’Connor
This novel by Sheila O’Connor, Evidence of V, tells a story of intergenerational trauma driven by the unknown. Growing up, O’Connor came to understand that her mother has trouble connecting emotionally to her children and with time she begins to understand how her mother’s relationships with her own family is at fault. On a trip to the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul, O’Connor opens her mother’s sealed adoption records, 65 years after her birth. The records reveal a dark untold history of Minnesota in the 1930’s where the incarceration of young girls was common practice and how the women who had babies outside of marriage were forced to put them up for adoption. Using the information from her mother’s file and a great deal of research, O’Connor writes a beautiful novel with pieces of fact woven into the telling of a dark history.
“The crime is Mr. C’s, but do you think he served six years?”
As an avid reader, Evidence of V is a unique and captivating novel that reveals a dark history I never knew. From the first page, I was engrossed in the beautiful writing and the rare storytelling which incorporates narrative story telling, case studies, and excerpts of books from the 1930’s. As a Minnesotan myself, reading about the untold history of the incarceration of girls as young as 13 was eye opening because of how common it was to punish girls who did not fit the societal norms. V, the main character, had big dreams of performing in the city and began dancing at the Cascade Club in Minneapolis. There she meets Mr. C, the club owner who was 20 years her senior. O’Connor writes, “V [is] the tiny vixen that belongs to Mr. C. Belongs. And doesn’t that mean love?” After V is caught leaving Mr. C’s apartment, V is then put on trial for her delinquency, specifically her pregnancy. In consequence, V’s dreams are instantly taken away from her as she is sentenced to six years at the Minnesota Home for Girls where she will learn how to be a homemaker and successful wife in the future.
“Not here, but someplace else. Say Ireland, perhaps?… Never in Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, California, and every other state. Never in America. Not us.”
Throughout the novel, I felt such a deep anger for the practice of incarcerating young women. As I read, I felt ashamed of this history in the state I call my home. Incarceration was common practice and, although time tried to erase these women and the trauma they endured, it still lives generationally in V’s daughter and granddaughter. V is a character a lot of people can relate to. Someone who sees the injustice in society and actively fights against the dominant narrative no matter the consequences. Throughout the novel, I saw a woman who fought for the rights of her daughter in a time when being a woman was shameful and for this reason, this historical and powerful read greatly impacted me.
“The city girl who traded songs for fame and money. The star-stuck girl who chased the nightlife and got what she deserved. What all the girls deserve.”