Title: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
Author: Anissa Gray
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publication date: February 19 2019
Hardcover: 304 pages
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.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: bought
Format (e- or p-): ebook
I am still dipping my toes into the literally fiction pool, finding what works for me and what doesn’t. Books like The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray are definitely my cup of tea.
Althea and Proctor Cochran had been pillars of their economically disadvantaged community for years – with their local restaurant/small market and their charity drives. Until they are found guilty of fraud for stealing and keeping most of the money they raised and sent to jail. Now disgraced, their entire family is suffering the consequences, specially their twin teenage daughters Baby Vi and Kim. To complicate matters even more: Kim was actually the one to call the police on her parents after yet another fight with her mother.
Althea is one of the central characters here, one of the driving forces of The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls not only because her terrible mistake sparks what comes next for their family but also because she – up until now – had been de de facto matriarch, ever since her mother died when she was a teenager herself. With a mostly absent (a travelling pastor) and abusive father, Althea brought up her younger siblings Viola, Joe and Lillian until she and Viola were able to get out. Joe and Lillian were not so lucky: their father decided to stay put at some point and pay attention to the younger ones – his attentions, both good and bad, came with shattering consequences, the type that breaks down a united family.
Now, without Althea running everything, Viola and Lillian come back to their family home to take care of their nieces. Viola, a married lesbian whose marriage might be in shambles as her bulimia shows its ugly head again. Lillian, the younger sibling whose trauma is deeply ingrained, whose own private life is a complicated thing as she is taking care of her elderly ex-mother-in-law and dealing with her own feelings of ineptitude and her fear of the past. Especially when it comes to their troubled brother Joe – the one Althea dotes on the most.
The three sisters share the spotlight with alternating viewpoint narratives, each of them somewhat isolated in dealing with their internal struggles until the lines of communication are forcibly opened by their current situation. When that happens, Althea shares her fear and certainty that she is just like their father. Viola learns that her own fears and stand-off ish might have compromised her love for her wife. Lillian needs to find out the courage to speak up for herself – and effectively for her nieces – when Joe voices he wants to care for them. And although we don’t get to see the story from their own perspective, we know Baby Vi and Kim are struggling just as much as the adults, specially Kim whose decision to call the police comes with is own share of guilt and shame.
And in the middle of it all, relationships are rebuilt. Relationships are forever torn apart. Some of the most beautiful moments here are the ones of quiet reflection, of quietly reaching out: be them between Althea and the women she is in jail with. Be them the poignant letters she shares with Proctor or how Lillian has built her own found family with her mother-in-law or how Viola recognises the same mental health issues in her niece that she has had all her life. There is a lot of good, chewy emotional gravitas in the book that I truly appreciated.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is a book that builds a complex portrait of a family, focused on its women and about stepping up – and what stepping up and accepting responsibility can do to you.
Rating: 7 – Very Good