Monday, January 4, 2021

Tigers, Not Daughters - Samantha Mabry


Summary: The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.

In a stunning follow-up to her National Book Award–longlisted novel All the Wind in the World, Samantha Mabry weaves an aching, magical novel that is one part family drama, one part ghost story, and one part love story. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I was very excited to read this book. If you’ve read very many of my reviews at all, you know that I really dig some magical realism, and I especially like it if it involves paranormal happenings. Also, this is a story about sisters, and as I am a person with only sisters myself, I felt like I could really relate to the complex and nuanced relationship of sisters.

The story starts out really well—I like the way this book handles perspectives. The chapters are named for the sisters, and although they are not first person in each chapter, it gives us insight as to what each is thinking and doing and gives us a great flavor of what each girl is like. I love when authors are good at differentiating their characters, and Mabry does just that. There are then a few chapters that are written from the perspective of “we,” which I always find really fascinating and a great way to gives us insight into what people on the outside are thinking. Mabry also does an excellent job of creating a “royal we” that allows us to see what we’re missing if we just look at the perspective of the girls.

While the writing is great and the characters are fleshed out well, there were a few key things that I really wasn’t that impressed with. First of all, the readers are led to believe that the father is basically a bad man and one worth escaping. What we see is a man who is taken in sorrow because of the loss of his wife, and then sister, and who drinks his feelings away. I’ve read a lot of books like this, and sadly I know that this is a real thing. However, this father didn’t seem that bad. Now, before you get all up in arms and say that any abuse is bad abuse, I totally agree. And it is completely unacceptable. My complaint is not that they should have just taken it and not tried to do the things they did, but my complaint is that the dad was actually not fleshed out enough to actually make him seem like much of a character. Instead of letting him just linger in the background, I would have liked to give the girls’ worries a voice. I don’t need to read about endless abuse to think “Enough is enough,” but I felt like instead of him being an ominous terror in the background he was somewhat of a non-entity, and that was a writing issue. A few more sentences here in there, a few more incidences that are spelled out (or even inferred) would have made fleshed out the situation. Now, to be clear, I am not one of those people who think that abused women have to have the burden of proof. That’s not it at all. It’s just that from a writing standpoint, and a story standpoint, he should have played more of a role.

My other complaint is similar to the previous one in that Ana the Ghost should have been more present. There were a few things here and there, and there was one really creepy particular incident that I thought had some promise, but really, for the book being about a ghost and one who delivers messages, it was really light on the ghost delivering messages. There were just a few incidents and some were pretty light sauce. Apparently when you say ghosts, I want Ghosts.

Overall, I really enjoyed the writing and the story in this book, but I felt it was lacking in some punch in the areas that I was hoping it would actually be about. It had such promise, and had some really cool concepts, but I would have liked them tied together and fleshed out better. If this book were perhaps 100 pages longer, or maybe even 50, I think all of these things could have been dealt with. I can’t tell if an editor just cut everything or Mabry decided not to go there, but I would have liked more. That being said, I’m still giving it what I consider to be a decent rating, because there is some really good stuff in there.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There was some light language and some discussion of sex, but not seriously descriptive. There was also some inferred violence from a father.

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