Growing up gifted and poor in small-town Arkansas, Monica and Darci became fast friends even as they navigated the challenges of their declining town and tumultuous family lives. In the end, Monica got out, but Darci did not. Years later, working as a journalist covering poverty, Monica discovered that the life expectancy of women in Arkansas had steeply declined. Most painfully, her best friend was now on track to becoming a statistic. Potts pinpoints the choices that sent her and Darci on such different paths and then widens the lens to explain why those choices are so limited.
Potts remains to one side of the picture in her own book; this is not so much the story of her personal triumph over the odds, but how so many other promising young women, such as Darci, were blocked from following a similar path ... Potts’s findings are depressing, though perhaps more nuanced than expected ... The Forgotten Girls is written without sentimentality, but it is elegiac all the same: a lament for lost opportunities and wasted lives; a controlled expression of rage at a system that continues to fail so many even as it exploits their despair.
Potts blames a variety of systemic failings for Darci’s fate ... But she is at her most persuasive when she describes how religious fundamentalism... marginalizes women ... The book is awash in research, held together less by Potts’s own story than by Darci’s. The first 50 pages or so are mired in exposition ... Such data is interesting but at times gives the book the feel of a textbook. This is not to say we aren’t taken fully into this world of hardscrabble lives and tenuous survival ... I wanted Potts to be transparent about what she did and didn’t reveal to Darci.
If I have a reservation, it’s this: it’s easy, as a writer, to expose your own life; it’s ethically awkward to do the same to the vulnerable, even with consent. Inside every writer there is a sliver of ice, it’s said, and Potts, sympathetic and non-judgmental as she is, must have needed it because holding an addict to their word can in some lights be interpreted as further exploitation ... But Potts serves a greater good. The Forgotten Girls rings with authenticity, a powerful, feminist, politics-made-personal analysis of how women in poor, white, religious societies suffer.