A Girl Named Lovely

One Child's Miraculous Survival and My Journey to the Heart of Haiti

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About The Book

An insightful and uplifting memoir about a young Haitian girl in post-earthquake Haiti, and the profound, life-changing effect she had on one journalist's life.

In January 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, killing hundreds of thousands of people and paralyzing the country. Catherine Porter, a newly minted international reporter, was on the ground in the immediate aftermath. Moments after she arrived in Haiti, Catherine found her first story. A ragtag group of volunteers told her about a “miracle child”—a two-year-old girl who had survived six days under the rubble and emerged virtually unscathed.

Catherine found the girl the next day. Her family was a mystery; her future uncertain. Her name was Lovely. She seemed a symbol of Haiti—both hopeful and despairing.

When Catherine learned that Lovely had been reunited with her family, she did what any journalist would do and followed the story. The cardinal rule of journalism is to remain objective and not become personally involved in the stories you report. But Catherine broke that rule on the last day of her second trip to Haiti. That day, Catherine made the simple decision to enroll Lovely in school, and to pay for it with money she and her readers donated.

Over the next five years, Catherine would visit Lovely and her family seventeen times, while also reporting on the country’s struggles to harness the international rush of aid. Each trip, Catherine's relationship with Lovely and her family became more involved and more complicated. Trying to balance her instincts as a mother and a journalist, and increasingly conscious of the costs involved, Catherine found herself struggling to align her worldview with the realities of Haiti after the earthquake. Although her dual roles as donor and journalist were constantly at odds, as one piled up expectations and the other documented failures, a third role had emerged and quietly become the most important: that of a friend.

A Girl Named Lovely is about the reverberations of a single decision—in Lovely’s life and in Catherine’s. It recounts a journalist’s voyage into the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, hit by the greatest natural disaster in modern history, and the fraught, messy realities of international aid. It is about hope, kindness, heartbreak, and the modest but meaningful difference one person can make.

Reading Group Guide

A Girl Named Lovely
Catherine Porter
Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for A Girl Named Lovely includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

In 2010, journalist Catherine Porter, a newly minted foreign correspondent with the Toronto Star, traveled to Haiti to report on the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck the country. She expected to record stories of the destruction and the complicated rescue and rebuilding efforts—she did not expect to fall in love with a place, a people, and one little girl who survived against all odds. Lovely, a two-year-old who survived six days under the rubble without food or water, touched Catherine’s heart, and when Catherine learned that Lovely had been reunited with her family, she did what any journalist would do and followed the story. The cardinal rule of journalism is to remain objective and not become personally involved in the stories you report. But Catherine broke that rule on the last day of her second trip to Haiti. That day, Catherine made the simple decision to enroll Lovely in school, and to pay for it with money she and her readers donated. Over the next five years, Catherine found herself returning again and again to Haiti, to Lovely and her family, and to the question of how to truly help another person—and of what it means to be a part of two families in two separate worlds.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. When Catherine makes the decision to enroll Lovely in school, she is consciously choosing to cross the line of journalistic neutrality in order to help Lovely and her family. Why does journalistic neutrality exist, and what is it intended to uphold? How is Catherine’s reporting altered by her closeness to Lovely’s story?

2. Catherine remarks on the different t-shirts of groups she sees on the plane to Haiti and on the often-misplaced efforts of the “voluntourists” who sometimes do more harm than good. And yet, foreign doctors and caregivers helped to save Lovely’s life, as well as the lives of so many others in Haiti. What did this book reveal to you about “voluntourism”? Is there a responsible way to go about it?

3. Throughout the book, Catherine mentions how she takes action to help Haitian children and families as a means of assuaging her guilt at seeing so much suffering. In explaining this decision, she brings up the story of Kevin Carter (page 63) to illustrate how distance from a subject can have a profound impact on journalists. Journalists profit from these instances of reporting suffering—Catherine herself advances in her career because of her work in Haiti. What is the ethical obligation of a human being exposed to another’s suffering? Is it mitigated by the broader mission of journalism?

4. While women still face sexism in North America, Catherine describes their much grimmer situation in Haiti (pages 105–106). How might the patriarchal nature of society in Haiti make life harder for a girl like Lovely? How will an education help Lovely to better her situation?

5. Nigel Fisher, the UN representative in Haiti, laments through the book that despite considerable foreign aid donations, “It’s so hard to get things done here” (page 162). Why is it difficult to use donations effectively in Haiti? What seems to be more successful in the rebuilding process—grassroots campaigns or large, multinational efforts?

6. The majority of international aid is funded by taxpayer dollars, meaning that organizations have to be accountable to countries who have contributed. From what you’ve read in this book, does that accountability exist? How do donors’ expectations align with the realities that affect the country in need of aid? Are there ways to more closely align charitable intentions with their impacts?

7. As a journalist, Catherine has a keen eye for detail. But when she first brings used clothing for Lovely’s family, she chooses items that are obviously too big for everyone. What hampers her perception? What other assumptions does Catherine make in the book as a result of her North American perspective? How did your position as a faraway reader impact the way you viewed Haiti and its people?

8. The book often addresses the conflict between wanting to help—either tangibly or through donations—and the frustration of having that aid lead to very little lasting improvement, which Catherine often worries is the case with Lovely’s family. What can we learn from Catherine’s careful decision-making process about how to go about giving aid? What does she learn about evaluating the results of charitable work? What constitutes a charitable success?

9. When Catherine returns to Haiti with Lyla in tow, she realizes that she has to learn to be a mother in Haiti—a very different person than who she is when she travels as a journalist (page 187). What does Catherine gain from this particular trip that she hadn’t from previous visits? Compare her role as a mother to Lyla and as a second mother to Lovely—how are they similar, and how are they different?

10. Catherine argues with her fixer Richard after she learns that he has taken a cut of a donation that another Canadian sent to buy land for a young boy’s family (page 228). Richard counters, “This is Haiti. This is how it works here” (page 229). Does our moral compass change when we’re in a corrupt system? When we’re in other cultures, must our ethics be absolute or are they flexible? Why do you suppose Catherine forgives Richard?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Decide on a cause that you all want to support and whether you’d like to raise funds or donate your time. Then do some research. For what purposes will your donation be used? How will the time you spend working on this cause directly benefit those you wish to help? Do your best to investigate what impact your contribution will have, then coordinate a donation or volunteer day together.

2. Look up some of Catherine’s recent articles about Haiti in the New York Times. Has Haiti “built back better” the way they intended to? What challenges do you see for Lovely, given the current state of the country? What gives you hope for her future?

3. Catherine learns a lot about Haiti and its language and culture through her many visits. Is there a language and culture that interests you? Research pen pal organizations with your book club and, together or individually, try writing to someone. You can practice a language you’ve been trying to learn or help someone abroad practice their English—and learn a lot about another place and culture in the process.

About The Author

Photography by Tara Walton

Catherine Porter is the Canada bureau chief for The New York Times, based in Toronto. She joined the paper in February 2017 from Toronto Star, Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper, where she was a columnist and feature writer. Catherine has received two National Newspaper Awards in Canada, the Landsberg Award for her feminist columns, and a Queen’s Jubliee Medal for grassroots community work. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two kids. Visit her at PorterWrites.ca or on Twitter @PortertheReport.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (February 2019)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501168116

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Raves and Reviews

A Girl Named Lovely is a graceful and moving memoir. Full of warmth and wisdom, it opens your eyes and your heart to those in need, invites you to step into their world, and, finally, inspires you to find a way to help.”

– Amanda Lindhout, bestselling author of A House in the Sky

This is a beautiful and tenderly told story, at times shocking, always illuminating. Catherine takes us into the heart of Haiti but also into her own conflicted heart, where her professionalism collides with her humanity. Ultimately, it’s a little Haitian girl who shows Catherine how she can be—at once—a compassionate person, a rigorous journalist, and a loving mother. A Girl Named Lovely is a book that will resonate with readers long after the final poignant pages.

– Carol Off, bestselling author of All We Left Behind

“As any good journalist knows—and Porter is as dedicated and enterprising as they come—there is the story you set out to write and the one you find on the ground when objectivity confronts reality. . . . In this absorbing account, Porter opens her heart as well as her notebook to walk the fine line between her job as a reporter and her soul as a compassionate human being.  The result is a clear-eyed, unflinching narrative that will move even the flintiest and jaundiced of readers.”

– Sandra Martin, award-winning journalist & author of A Good Death

“We often do not appreciate how precious life is until we witness with our own eyes real human suffering. A Girl Named Lovely shows that each and every one of us has the power to help, and that sometimes, the simplest acts can plant the seeds for a new life for a person in need. This book needs to be heard. Read it, appreciate it, and let it inspire you to help.

– Tima Kurdi, bestselling author of The Boy on the Beach

Porter sums up Haiti in all its charm and complexity. An intimate and cautionary tale about the ethics of charity and development, A Girl Named Lovely is also an important story about love across cultural lines and what commitment to others really means.”

– Amy Wilentz, award-winning author of Farewell, Fred Voodoo

A Girl Named Lovely is a must read. Catherine Porter provides us with understanding and hope about Haiti, free of platitudes and bromides. It’s a story of compassion and resilience.

– Bob Rae, bestselling author of What's Happened to Politics?

"Powerful and searching, Porter’s book offers an unforgettable account of how one woman’s humanitarian gestures not only changed her, but also made a difference in the lives of people living in unimaginable misery. A movingly candid memoir about finding some measure of hope in 'the poorest country in the western hemisphere.'"

– Kirkus Reviews

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