Friday, March 15, 2019

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, by Anissa Gray

Berkley Publishing Group, ISBN 9781984802439, February 2019

The Butler sisters--Althea, Viola, and Lillian--had a difficult childhood. Their mother died when Lillian was a baby. Their father was--difficult--and often absent on preaching missions. Althea became a substitute mother for the younger girls.

The only boy, Joe, was his own kind of problem.

Now they're all adults. Althea married Proctor, and they started a restaurant and had twin daughters, Kim and Baby Vi. Althea and Proctor became pillars of the community. Viola went to Chicago, became a psychologist, and married Eva. Lillian moved to New York, became an an interior designer, married Sam. And then she and Sam divorced, and she returned to Michigan. When Sam died, she took in his aged grandmother, Nai Nai, and as unlikely as it might be, they became a family.

And now everything is coming apart. Our first hint of this is that Althea and Proctor are in jail, awaiting sentencing, and the twins, Kim and Baby Vi, are staying with Lillian, in the home the Butler siblings grew up in.

In alternating chapters from the viewpoint of each sister, and letters from Proctor, we learn how they got to this point, and how they go on from it.

Every one of the siblings has issues from their upbringing.

Althea, with too much responsibility too young, a mother to her siblings from age twelve, when she was grieving herself, even with a loving husband and the respect of the community, has never felt loved for herself. The need for respect has pushed her to do everything to build her restaurant up more and more, ultimately going too far, with Proctor going down with her

Viola, missing her mom, unable to win her father's approval, developed an eating disorder she still struggles with.

Lillian, with no real memory of her mother at all, also badly needed love. Althea and Proctor had taken all her siblings with them when they married, but after a time, their father asked for Lillian and Joe to come to live with him. Althea was reluctant, but they'd be nearby, and Joe was old enough to be somewhat responsible, and she and Proctor were still a young couple starting a business.

It's a while before we learn that for all the elder Mr. Butler's harsh manner and harsh rules, the genuinely abusive one is Joe.

As the personalities and events unfold, we come to care about all the sisters, and Althea's daughters. Althea is outwardly the coldest, and the hardest to like, but for reasons that make all too much sense to me. Let me be absolutely clear: Don't put your kid in the position of mothering their younger siblings. And if you have no choice but to do that, make sure you recognize what they're doing for you, and make sure they know you appreciate what they're doing and how hard it is for them.

Lilian is now trying to mother Althea's daughters, in the home where her siblings lived with their parents, where she lived with her father and Joe. The home she needs to let go of, and can't, even though she's completely renovated it to make it not the same place.

Viola had made a life for herself in Chicago, but now she and Eva are separated, and Viola's eating disorder is rearing its ugly head again. She can't get herself back to New River Junction for the sentencing of Althea and Proctor, but she does get back the day after.

They all have a lot of learning, growing, and healing to do, and I couldn't stop reading.


I received a free electronic galley from the publisher, and am reviewing it voluntarily.

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