The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
I’d been hearing great things about Anissa Gray’s début novel The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls for almost a year before I finally picked it up. It was one of those books I really wanted to read, but at the same time, I hated the thought of not having it to look forward to. My brain does strange things sometimes, I know. Anyway, I finally gave in and started reading, and I’m very glad I did.
The women of the Butler family are no strangers to bad luck. Each of them has gone through more than their fair share of trials and tribulations, but most people would say they’ve all managed to come out on top. But when oldest sister Althea and her husband Proctor are arrested one day for embezzling money they had promised to donate to charity, Lillian and Viola must come together to care for their sister’s teenaged daughters while Althea and Proctor are in jail. No one is particularly happy with this arrangement, but both Viola and Lillian know it’s their duty to care for their struggling nieces in their time of trouble.
Althea was always the force that held the family together. When their mother walked out on the girls and their father, Althea stepped up and helped raise the younger children, even though she was not much more than a child herself. Her strong will and even stronger opinions caused her sisters to respect and fear her in equal measure. No one ever expected her to be hauled off to jail in disgrace, and to make matters worse, she’s now refusing to see or speak to her own daughters, and she has very little to say about the crimes she and Proctor have been accused of.
Lillian is the youngest of the Butler sisters, and the one most obviously scarred by their mother’s abandonment and their father’s cruelty. All her life, she has longed for love and approval, but Althea seems to find fault with almost everything she does. Now that she’s in charge of caring for Althea’s children, Lillian wonders if she’ll finally be able to measure up to her sister’s extremely high standards.
Viola, the middle sister, left town as soon as she graduated from high school. She doesn’t necessarily dislike her family, but neither does she relish the thought of living near them. When Althea and Proctor are arrested and Lillian is overwhelmed almost to the point of collapse, Viola is forced to return home and face both the ghosts of her past and the mysteries of an uncertain future.
This is the story of a family in crisis, of sisters, mothers, and daughters struggling to survive in a world that is often cruel and unfeeling. It’s the kind of book that is sure to tug at the heartstrings of its readers, but also leave them with a ton to think about. Ms. Gray doesn’t shy away from the darker side of family life. Instead, she faces a number of unpleasant situations head on, and I appreciated the sensitivity she shows when discussing things like child abuse and neglect.
If you’re looking for a book filled with likable characters, this one isn’t for you. It’s certainly not that these characters are inherently bad, but a few of them do take a bit of getting used to. Althea, in particular, was hard for me to warm up to. She comes off as so very self-righteous, ready to point the finger at anyone who transgresses even the slightest bit. She wants the people around her to think she’s above reproach, but it’s obvious to the reader pretty early on that she’s anything but a paragon of virtue. Ms. Gray does a great job creating characters who dwell in that gray area inhabited by many of the people in our real lives, and whereas I didn’t always love everything about Althea and her family, I felt like I at the very least understood them.
My one quibble with this book has to do with the crime Althea and Proctor have been accused of committing. I never felt like I knew what they had actually done and what they were accused of doing. Maybe those things were one and the same, but it just wasn’t clear. We are given a few glimpses into Althea’s thoughts as she sits in jail, but they don’t provide much in the way of clear-cut information. Certain things are revealed near the end of the book, but I was still left with questions.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is not a perfect book, but it’s still worth your time and attention. The author excels at painting vivid pictures with her words, and the story she’s telling is both timely and important.