Downeast: Five Maine Girls and the Unseen Story of Rural America (Paperback)
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In Downeast, Gigi Georges follows five girls as they come of age in one of the most challenging and geographically isolated regions on the Eastern seaboard. Their stories reveal surprising truths about rural America and offer hope for its future. “It’s almost impossible not to care about these fierce young women and cheer for their hard-won successes” (Kirkus) in this “heartfelt portrait” and “worthy tribute” (Publishers Weekly).
Nestled in Maine’s far northeast corner, Washington County sits an hour’s drive from the heart of famed and bustling Acadia National Park. Yet it’s a world away. For Willow, Vivian, Mckenna, Audrey, and Josie—five teenage girls caught between tradition and transformation in this remote region—it is home. Downeast follows their journeys of heartbreak and hope in uncertain times, creating a nuanced and unique portrait of rural America with women at its center.
Willow lives in the shadow of an abusive, drug-addicted father and searches for stability through photography and love. Vivian, a gifted writer, feels stifled by her church and town, and struggles to break free without severing family ties. Mckenna is a softball pitching phenom whose passion is the lobster-fishing she learned at her father’s knee. Audrey is a beloved high school basketball star who earns a coveted college scholarship but questions her chosen path. Josie, a Yale-bound valedictorian, is determined to take the world by storm.
All five girls know the pain and joy of life in a region whose rugged beauty and stoicism mask dwindling populations, vanishing job opportunities, and pervasive opioid addiction. As the girls reach adulthood, they discover that despite significant challenges, there is much to celebrate in “the valley of the overlooked.” Their stories remind us of the value of timeless ideals: strength of family and community, reverence for nature’s rule, dignity in cracked hands and muddied shoes, and the enduring power of home.
Revealed through the eyes of Willow, Vivian, Mckenna, Audrey, and Josie, Downeast is based on four years of intimate reporting. The result is a beautifully rendered, emotionally startling, and vital book. Downeast will break readers’ hearts yet offer them hope, providing answers to what the future may hold for rural America.
Gigi Georges, Ph.D., turned to narrative non-fiction writing after an extensive career in politics, public service, and academia. A former White House Special Assistant to the President, she has taught political science at Boston College, served as Program Director for the Harvard Kennedy School’s Innovation Strategies Initiative, and been a Managing Director of The Glover Park Group—a leading national public affairs firm. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she lives with her family in New Hampshire and Downeast Maine.
"In this remarkable book Gigi Georges explores the lives of five girls in rural Maine over four years. She catalogs their dreams, longings, and awakenings with sensitivity and tact, revealing both nuanced aspects of character and larger points about the complicated world in which these girls live. Downeast is important, arresting, and engrossing.”
— Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author
“This remarkably poignant and timely book should be read by anyone who cares to understand rural America's human tragedies and heroic triumphs. Through the gripping sagas of five young women, Georges not only unsparingly documents rural poverty, joblessness, and opioid addiction, but details how so many people in the rural community have nonetheless kept right on coping, hoping, and caring for each other through grit, goodness, and faith in God. Here is the whole truth about America's rural towns and cities.” — John J. DiIulio, Jr., Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society at the University of Pennsylvania
“A resonant, beautiful book. The pull of place, the imprint of place on these girls and on all of us is done so well . . . Downeast is a powerful example of the edifying quality of small-town America, and a counter-narrative to the negative stories we hear. It is also empowering to girls—refreshing and so needed.” — Susan Conley, author of Elsey Come Home and Landslide
“An empathetic, observant account of five young women trying to chart their path in rural Maine, and a moving exploration of individuals who want to both transcend and honor their roots in an economy and culture that often overlook girls and women. Georges does the opposite by rigorously adhering to their perspectives, so that we see their world, their choices, and their strength, through their own eyes.” — Amy Waldman, author of A Door in the Earth and The Submission
"Each of these stories reflects the extreme challenges of life in poor, rural America . . . . It’s almost impossible not to care about these fierce young women and cheer for their hard-won successes." — Kirkus Reviews
“A heartfelt portrait of five teenage girls growing up in Maine’s remote and economically depressed Washington County . . . . Enriched by the author’s love of the area and deep admiration for her subjects, this is a worthy tribute to a group of stalwart young women committed to forging their own paths.” — Publishers Weekly
"Georges respects the region's families and way of life that instill generational grit and a self-sufficient work ethic, even as she explores tragedies and dark spots in its community soul. Her characterization of Downeast is thus nostalgic without being sentimental, empathetic without being patronizing . . . Georges’ lovely book will appeal to readers seeking memoirs, understanding of rural worlds, feminist values, or even travel writing." — Booklist
“Well-researched and compelling . . . a celebration of hard work rewarded and family connections cherished. It is not in any way saccharine, but it is a welcome dose of positivity in a troubled time.” — Portland Press Herald