Title: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
Author: Anissa Gray
Publication Date: February 19, 2019
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ ½
TW: Eating disorders, body hatred, child abuse, neglect
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Debut author Anissa Gray presents a startling oftentimes harsh picture of a family in The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls.
The Butler family has had their share of trials – as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lilian 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.
If you follow my blog then you’ll know how I feel about family dramas. They either work for me, like in the case of Tara Conklin’s The Last Romantics (which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) or, well, lull me to sleep. But even with the genre’s track record I still, somehow, picked up another family drama to read hoping that I’ll once again hit the jackpot like I did with The Last Romantics.
It didn’t quite work out the way I wanted to.
The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls was a well-written story about the complex entity that is family. It dug deep into the core, dragging secrets, betrayals and shifting alliances into the surface. Anissa Gray created a deeply flawed, utterly believable set of characters. There’s Althea, the eldest of the Butler siblings. She takes on the matriarch role when her mother dies at a young age, taking care and raising her siblings almost on her own. Then there’s intelligent Viola, the middle child who harbors a deep secret of her own. Last is Lilian, the baby of the family. Nervy, flummoxed, and unsure of herself, Lilian seemed to be the opposite of her formidable older sisters.
I greatly appreciated the way Gray wrote these three characters, these sisters who are so connected to one another. They are her narrators and movers both. These three women – Althea, Viola, and Lilian – were so effectively written, their voices and personalities so distinct that a reader would be able to easily tell who is who. Together, these three women carry the whole story on their shoulders, moving and dictating its flow, pace and direction with their every choice and decision.
This is one powerful story about family and all its complexities, and I appreciate that. I love that Anissa Gray tackled the topic of incarceration, giving us readers a glimpse into what the families of felons go through with the use of the Butler family. It’s something that you don’t see so much of.
That said, even with how amazingly well-crafted this story was, I still couldn’t connect with the characters. They felt far away. Reading this story was like watching from a distance as things happen to strangers. There isn’t much emotion involved.
Another part that could have used more work were Althea’s daughters Kim and Baby Vi. I felt like they were underutilized and only partly explored, a missed opportunity for the author. I honestly think these two characters could have added so much more to the story, maybe provide a contrasting image to their mother and aunts. Gray’s portrayal of bulimia though was particularly jarring and so realistic.
Overall, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls was an excellent literary work. Anissa Gray is a promising new author. Her writing was beautiful and she created complex and very human characters. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from her. However, I’ll be an outlier and say that while I enjoyed this book it didn’t quite stir my emotions. It could simply be a matter of personal preference, but this is my honest opinion of the book. I would still definitely recommend this to other readers, especially those who appreciate reading about complex family relationships.
ANISSA GRAY was born and raised in western Michigan. She graduated from Western Michigan University and received her Masters in English from New York University. After graduate school, Anissa went on to work as a print reporter at Reuters in Manhattan, covering global financial news. That was followed by a move to Atlanta and the initiation of her career in broadcast journalism at CNN, where she has held roles as writer, editor, and producer, receiving Emmy and DuPont awards for contributions to the network’ coverage of major stories.
After more than 20 years as a journalist, Anissa, a lifelong book lover and voracious reader, pursued fiction writing, applying her love of storytelling from the realm of real-life, newsworthy happenings to the events and encounters that shape our lives.