The Girls In The Stilt House By Kelly Mustian: Review and Summary

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The Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian is a recently published novel that tells the story of two teenage girls growing up in Missisipi during the 1920s. The author paints a vivid picture of the time period and captures the essence of life in a small Southern town. The novel is an intriguing tale of family, friendship, and the struggle for survival.

Plot Summary

Longing, aspiration, and murder converge in rural 1920s Mississippi to link and forever shape the lives of two diverse teenage girls, Ada and Matilda, in Kelly Mustian’s haunting debut novel, The Girls in the Stilt House.

Ada, a young runaway, vows never to return to the cruelty of her father’s house and her hardscrabble life in the Trace, the enigmatic Mississippi swamp where Ada’s past and future lie hidden, yet to be unearthed. Matilda Patterson, a sharecropper’s daughter from the far side of the marsh, knows even more intimately the lingering dangers of the past as she, too, longs for a new and better life.

After heartbreak and disappointment in Baton Rouge, Ada has no choice but to return to the life she swore to leave. As she labors to tidy her father’s unkempt house in the dismal Trace before his return, Ada hopes for change. But when Virgil Morgan arrives, he resets the old, ruthless standards. When he realizes the secret Ada is carrying, the only change that seems possible for anyone in the marsh is for the worse. As Virgil comes at Ada with deadly intent, Matilda appears, seemingly out of nowhere, to help.

At first, Ada is in awe of Matilda. But the independent and self-sufficient Matilda needs a place to stay and shelter from her own storms. Seemingly Ada’s salvation, Matilda has demons to excise as well. The individual and shared needs and sorrows of the girls’ past, present, and future could pit them against each other but unite them instead. Yet the bond is fragile, with each girl now complementing, now countering the other. Still, the two young women, one black, one white, need each other, for the very fact of their differences as the past they had hoped to escape confronts them with ominous new challenges they must face separately and together to survive.

Narrative Structure

The novel’s structure, alternating chapters of Ada’s and Matilda’s stories, nicely supports this underlying theme. Although Ada’s narrative is presented first and Matilda’s second, Matilda’s is foundational. Because of her own father’s risks for a better life, Matilda realizes the reality and threat of Virgil Morgan and what he represents even before Ada. And as Matilda’s best friend leaves the Trace for the kind of life and work Matilda longs for, she knows that if there is hope for her own future, she must maintain the bonds of friendship. Hereafter, Ada carries Matilda’s familial legacy where the Pattersons no longer can, and Ada realizes that she must confront and vanquish a man far more dangerous even than her father for the antiquated laws he represents that must be abolished.

Writing Style

While the novel’s first chapter lags a bit, the prologue creates a strong narrative pull, and as the story unfolds, the plot tightens and accelerates without sacrificing the development of the storyline or the characters. The distant third person omniscient perspective that alternates largely between Ada and Matilda underscores that only by living and working side by side can these diverse young women find new lives and a greater purpose. To that end, the past, present, and future are inextricably linked in the storyline but not in ways the characters or the readers necessarily understand in the moment. Still, the strands yield more than the twining of the individual threads, and the setting of the Trace is deftly woven in as a character of mood and mystery that both


What is The Girls in the Stilt House about?

The Girls in the Stilt House is a novel about two teenage girls coming of age in Missisipi during the 1920s. The story focuses on their friendship and struggles to survive in a society that is often unforgiving. The book also explores issues of race and gender during the time period.

Is The Girls in the Stilt House a fast-paced book?

The Girls in the Stilt House is not a fast-paced book, but it is emotionally resonant and thought-provoking. The focus is on character development and exploring social issues, rather than action-driven plotlines.

Who would enjoy reading The Girls in the Stilt House?

The Girls in the Stilt House is a great choice for readers who enjoy literary fiction with a strong focus on character development. It would also appeal to readers interested in historical fiction, particularly stories set in the American South.

2 thoughts on “The Girls In The Stilt House By Kelly Mustian: Review and Summary”

    • Apologies for the error in my review regarding the names of the location and character. After revisiting the book, I realized my mistake and would like to correct myself. The correct name of the location is Mississippi, and the correct name of the character is Ada and Matilda. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.


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