Greyhound of a Girl

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
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Funny, emotional novel explores generations of family ties.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Greyhound of a Girl includes details about farm life in eastern Ireland in the 1920s and about the evolution of Irish family life from that time to the present day. Changes in clothing, food preparation, gender roles, technology, and transportation are highlighted.

Positive Messages

With humor, but without shirking the honest struggles between female family members, the author shows the characters' devotion to one another, the ways they learn to understand themselves from one another, and the beauty and continuity of their circle of life. There's a supernatural element to the book, but that's part of the author's focus on the connections between four generations of women in one family.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Each generation shows the way for the younger ones. Tansey, the great-grandmother, is warm, patient, and kind, with a great joy of life. Emer, Tansey's daughter, shows grace, courage, and a lingering enjoyment of small pleasures at the end of her life. Scarlett, the third generation of these women, is an enthusiastic, loving mother who teaches her daughter practical things, like how to cook a dinner; she's also a devoted daughter who visits her ill mother in the hospital daily.


Scarlett recalls how her parents used to kiss as they were driving from Dublin to the farm where her mother grew up.


There's a running joke where characters accuse each other of being "cheeky" or "rude," but there's no foul language.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

On their way into the hospital, Mary, Scarlett, and Tansey pass a man in a wheelchair who's about to light a cigarette.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Greyhound of a Girl, by Booker Prize-winning author Roddy Doyle, is about the coming together of four generations of women in an Irish family. The book weaves among the points of view of 12-year-old Mary; her mother, Scarlett; her grandmother, Emer; and her great-grandmother, Tansey. Mary and her mother are going through a difficult time; Mary's best friend has recently moved to another part of Dublin, and Emer is very ill and in the hospital. The book is by turns emotional and humorous -- which feels honest -- and deals with intense feelings of loss. Children under 10 may be upset by the fact that a young mother dies in the book, and it's understood that Emer is near the end of her life. One of the characters is a ghost, but she's not spooky or frightening.

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What's the story?

GREYHOUND OF A GIRL tells the story of four generations of women in an Irish family. At age 12, Mary is going through a difficult time because her best friend has recently moved across Dublin, and her grandmother is very ill. Mary and her mother, Scarlett, visit Mary's grandmother (Scarlett's mother), Emer, in the hospital daily, and though they sometimes argue, mother and daughter are very close and are navigating the painful hospital visits together, as Mary's older brothers have become surly, aloof teens. One day, on her way home from school, Mary encounters someone she presumes is a new neighbor, a young woman in very old-fashioned dress. This woman, it turns out, is a ghost who wants Mary and her mother to help her deliver a message to Emer.

Is it any good?

The great Irish author Roddy Doyle writes with amazing ease from the point of view of four generations of women. His characters are well-formed and extremely believable, and their experience of looking back at their family's heritage and feeling the imminence of Emer's death is extremely moving and relatable. The character of Tansey is particularly sweet and somewhat whimsical, and her bond with the daughter she left behind decades ago is so sweet.

Doyle is also a marvelous humor writer, and his dialogue is especially funny. Greyhound of a Girl is as charming as a book that deals with death can be, and girls especially will find it meaningful.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about multigenerational family stories. What other books that you've read or movies you've seen have dealt with a loved one passing away? What do you think happens to people after they die?

  • Why does Tansey feel she can't leave Emer, and why must she see her before Emer dies?

  • Why do you think they all want to revisit the farm? Do you think seeing what's happened to the farm helped them?

Book details

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