Review | The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
Author: Anissa Gray
Publication Date: February 19, 2019
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
The Mothers meets An American Marriage in this dazzling debut novel about mothers and daughters, identity and family, and how the relationships that sustain you can also be the ones that consume you.
The Butler family has had their share of trials—as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lillian can attest—but nothing prepared them for the literal trial that will upend their lives.
Althea, the eldest sister and substitute matriarch, is a force to be reckoned with and her younger sisters have alternately appreciated and chafed at her strong will. They are as stunned as the rest of the small community when she and her husband Proctor are arrested, and in a heartbeat the family goes from one of the most respected in town to utter disgrace. The worst part is, not even her sisters are sure exactly what happened.
As Althea awaits her fate, Lillian and Viola must come together in the house they grew up in to care for their sister’s teenage daughters. What unfolds is a stunning portrait of the heart and core of an American family in a story that is as page-turning as it is important.
The best place to start off with this review with a confession. I went into Anissa Grays’s The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls blind. It was a total cover read and I assumed it was a young adult fantasy.
What The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is in fact a highly complex story of family torn apart by generational trauma and recent incarceration of two of the family members. With their parents incarcerated, their twin teenage daughters left to parentless with their futures uncertain, bringing together the estranged family to decide what to do next.
Told in the point of view of the three the Butler sisters The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls alternates between flashbacks and present day to tell how the family ended up in their current situations. It’s also a story of the sister reckoning with the past and how the past has shaped every facet of their lives. It’s a story of coming to terms with the past, decision made, and the consequence of those decisions.
And because this novel focuses on exploring trauma and incarceration, it’s a tough read. It’s clear from the start there aren’t many happy endings for the Butlers. Maybe it was the combination of the hard-hitting plot and that I was prepared to read a different story, I contemplated DNFing this book. Instead, I sat it down and tried to come back to it with fresher eyes and adjusted expectations.
Did the time away work?
I don’t know.
This novel had the elements of a book I would normally love. The characters had complex, shared and individual back stories. There are family secrets, a lot of family secrets. There was a lot of troubling family dynamics and drama. It ticked a lot of my tropeish check boxes off. It just didn’t work for me this time, for several reasons.
The first problem was the character voices. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is told through alternating first-person point of views of the three sisters, Althea, Viola, and Lillian. All three of the sisters sounded identical. I think Anissa Gray did this to make it easier for readers to get inside the sisters’ heads and for the women to tell the story in their own voice. Their voices all read the same. If it hadn’t been for the clear labeling, I wouldn’t have been able to tell them apart. I kept wishing this novel was in the third person pov.
As I came to understand the story, I was looking forward to the three women reconciling with their past trauma and each other. The situations Althea, Viola, and Lillian find themselves in forces them to examine themselves. And Gray handles this element well. As they are remembering their tough childhood and the fall out from it forces them to deal with how their childhood has shaped them for the better and worse. They’re forced to deal with how they have handled the decisions they made. They’re forced to deal with how they have treated not only themselves but also others. This is hands down my favorite element of the story, the character growth.
What I disliked was how a lot of the reflection that occurred involved shifting blame to Althea. She even does it herself. She takes the blame for a lot of things were outside of her control. Things that happened when she was but a child herself. She got blamed for not reacting the way people expected. For not noticing stuff she didn’t witness or told about. She got blamed for adults not being able to speak up and stop stuff they didn’t agree with. And as people are handing her all this blame, she’s placing it on her shoulders and adding her own.
I’m a reader that loves a good, dark, messy family drama. And while all the elements were there, they didn’t mix well together in Anissa Gray’s The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls.