Book Review: The Invisible Girls

The Invisible Girls: A Memoir

Sarah Thebarge

Growing up a fundamentalist PK (preacher’s kid), Sarah had developed a sense of God as being punishing and severe. Otherwise, she led a relatively normal life up until her early twenties – undergraduate and graduate degrees from two Ivy League schools, an upwardly mobile job as a physician’s assistant, a growing desire to write, and a boyfriend. She was studying journalism at Columbia University when her life took a drastic and nasty turn which undermined the next few years of her life and challenged her faith. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and immediately had a double mastectomy followed by chemo and radiation treatments. Her image of God was confirmed.

As Sarah struggled through the therapy, her expectations for healing declined at every recurrence. Being a PK, she turned to God and wondered where He was and why He had allowed such a travesty to be inflicted upon her in the prime of life. “I’ve decided that either God doesn’t exist, or He’s terribly angry with me, or there’s something I’m missing about His character that lets Him love His children but allows them to suffer at the same time.” God brought friends to comfort and encourage her, but they were slowly leaving town or even dying.  She was now experiencing losses too devastating to comprehend. Her parents flew in to help wherever they could, but no one can actually experience the full extent of an illness except oneself. Would this nightmare ever end?  

Interwoven between chapters of Sarah’s sickness is the account of an incident which seems only attributable to the nudging of the Holy Spirit. She moved to Portland, Oregon and while riding the MAX (light rail), she befriends a Somali woman (Hadhi) and her five young daughters. Predictably, the littlest girl makes the first move and by mid-trip, is snuggled comfortably in Sarah’s lap. Before they disembark, Sarah asks for Hadhi’s phone number.

Discovering that their husband/father had deserted them shortly after they arrived in the United States, they had become invisible – no one knew of their existence or desperate needs. On Sarah’s first visit to their apartment, she finds them eating moldy bread dipped in ketchup. They had no income, were threatened with no heat, no lights, no phone, and eviction. Also lacking were any sort of social skills and education. As Sarah addresses these seemingly impossible situations, they become very close friends. The girls light up her life as much as she lights up theirs.

If Sarah’s breast cancer story is one of faith reaching its lowest point, then the friendship with the Somali woman and daughters becomes the adventure that returns her to faith in the living God. Sarah concludes: “Love will cost you dearly. And it will break your heart. But in the end, it will save the world.”

This book is available in the BelPres Library. See our online catalog, listing over 5,000 resources, here.

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