Two girls go on the run in Emma Styles’ No Country for Girls: a man is dead and they leave the city in his ute, still strangers but now accomplices to murder and with a bag of stolen gold at their feet.
Gold. Theft. Murder. A Road Trip to Die For. Charlie and Nao are strangers from different sides of the tracks. They should never have met, but one devastating incident binds them together forever.
A man is dead and now they are unwilling accomplices in his murder there’s only one thing to do: hit the road in the victim’s twin cab ute, with a bag of stolen gold stashed under the passenger seat.
Suddenly outlaws, Nao and Charlie must make their way across Australia’s remote outback using only their wits to survive. They’ll do whatever it takes to evade capture and escape with their lives…
When she encounters a barefoot and bloodied Nao outside her house late one night, Charlie is understandably reluctant to let this stranger into her home. Especially with older sister, Geen, not there. But doing so arguably saves her life before sending these two strangers off on an unexpected and fractious road trip together. I liked how seemingly random their first encounter is, and that we meet the girls at the same time as they are warily circling each other. Emma Styles drops us right into the action. When Charlie opens the gate and leads the way into her house, we follow her and Nao up that path. And later, we’ll leave the house with them and bundle ourselves into that stolen ute, staying with these two young girls every red dirt step of the way.
Charlie and Nao get off to an inauspicious start and it’s unsurprising that these two girls are wary of each other after their lives suddenly collide, setting them off on a trajectory neither one of them could have seen coming. But seeing how they cope with this, being cooped up in the ute together and trying to stay ahead of their pursuers, was an aspect of No Country for Girls which I thoroughly enjoyed. They’re two different characters—one feisty and combative, the other, more thoughtful and intuitive—forced to rely on each other. I also loved how this difference is reflected in the choices they make along the way.
We spend the vast majority of time with Charlie and Nao, except for the odd chapter when we hear from Charlie’s older sister, Geen, which allows us to see their relationship develop over the course of the book. It helps us understand their decisions and makes us root for them to survive this shared adventure. I needed to know how their story would turn out. I could sense their horror at the turn of events on the night which sets everything else in motion, the tension and suspicion, the secrets they keep, their own stories of hurt and loss, but also their grudging yet growing reliance on one another. Which is something they’ll need as they head away from the city and further up into Western Australia.
Emma Styles’ description conjures up the landscape they travel through so well that I almost feel as if I’ve been there, after having read the book: heat seems to rise off its pages, road trains blast past us, sucking up what little air there is and stirring up the dust from those red dirt roads the girls travel until it catches in your throat, while the horizon shimmers in the distance. It’s an evocative journey into treacherous country, and one which Emma Styles brings alive. There’s a very real sense that the girls have to keep moving as much because of the terrain and its dangers, as any threat posed by pursuers.
As the girls are propelled ever further away from the city they grew up in, I was far less concerned about who was behind them than their road trip because I knew there had to be a showdown. It was coming somewhere down the road. But first, I wanted to see how far they could get and go along for the ride, wherever that might take us. The final confrontation, when it does happen, comes across as a little clumsy, bordering on farcical. But I could forgive it that. No Country for Girls had more than delivered on its promise of escape and adventure with the potential for friendship and freedom thrown in. Besides, I think Emma Styles redeems herself with the actual ending and the way she leaves things.
Here’s where I need to give you a heads-up before you, too, venture into No Country for Girls. Once Charlie and Nao enter the house, certain events play out which ensure things move at a fair old lick from there and the book whips along at a good pace, as the girls are pursued across Western Australia. They barely have time to think about what to do, let alone any chance to rest. And here’s the thing: given that you’re along for the ride, the same goes for you. Once you start reading No Country for Girls, you’ll find it hard to stop. The short chapters make it all too easy to keep going. (For the girls’ sake, obviously. To make sure they’re alright.) So, carve out some time, get the snacks in, top up your beverage of choice—because it’s important to stay hydrated—and buckle up. You’re about to go on one heck of a road trip. What begins as a terrifying escape for the two girls is a heady, twisty and gritty adventure for the reader.
No Country for Girls by Emma Styles is published by Sphere and is available as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback, with the paperback due out early next year. You can find it at Amazon UK (affiliate link), Bookshop.org (affiliate link) Hive and Waterstones. For more info, visit the Author Website or follow her over on Instagram or on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.