Review: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

This book will destroy you but you must read it.



Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Published August 2020

Dark Fiction  |  Goodreads  |  Amazon 

Source: Received for Review Consideration
A stunning, lyrical novel set in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians in which a young girl discovers stark truths that will haunt her for the rest of her life.

"A girl comes of age against the knife."

So begins the story of Betty Carpenter. Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a Cherokee father and white mother, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit is one of poverty and violence--both from outside the family, and also, devastatingly, from within. The lush landscape, rich with birdsong, wild fruit, and blazing stars, becomes a kind of refuge for Betty, but when her family's darkest secrets are brought to light, she has no choice but to reckon with the brutal history hiding in the hills, as well as the heart-wrenching cruelties and incredible characters she encounters in her rural town of Breathed, Ohio.

But despite the hardship she faces, Betty is resilient. Her curiosity about the natural world, her fierce love for her sisters, and her father's brilliant stories are kindling for the fire of her own imagination, and in the face of all she bears witness to, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write. She recounts the horrors of her family's past and present with pen and paper and buries them deep in the dirt--moments that has stung her so deeply, she could not tell them, until now.

Inspired by the life of her own mother, Tiffany McDaniel sets out to free the past by telling this heartbreaking yet magical story--a remarkable novel that establishes her as one of the freshest and most important voices in American fiction.



My 2 Cents For Free!

*I received an ARC from Netgalley with the unspoken promise I'd write a review. Here it is.

I said this about The Summer That Melted Everything and I’m going to say the exact same thing about Betty. “This story is cruel, it is bleak and it is beautifully descriptive and impossible to put down.” If you haven’t read the work of Tiffany McDaniel you are truly missing out because her prose is pure magic and I am not exaggerating. These two books deserve every single star in the reviewing universe.

Betty is inspired by McDaniel’s own mother and it is a powerhouse of a novel. It is set in the same town of Blessed as The Summer That Melted Everything so if you’ve read that book (and trust me you need to read that book), you’ll recognize the setting and there are several nods to TSTME near the end.

This is the coming of age story of Betty, a sensitive and wise young soul, who was born in a bathtub in 1954 to a white mother and a full-blooded Cherokee father and surrounded by older and younger siblings. Betty shares the dark skin, eyes, and hair color as her beloved father, and as she grows she faces prejudice and hateful bullying but her father’s love, kindness and stories inspire her to overcome and she never allows the suffocating hatred and unfairness of her circumstances to destroy her - even when she has all the reason in the world to do so. She is smart and strong and has a barbed wit that serves her well in life. Life is difficult for Betty. The things she endures would ruin most of us.

This book skillfully blends beauty and cruelty and doles them both out in equal measure. I’m not going to sugar coat things because that’s not what I do. Within these pages are some of the most devastating scenes I’ve ever read and I’ve read many a grueling book because I am a glutton for that kind of soul-shredding pain. There is one particular scene here that will be burned into my memory until my final days. Betty is hard to read and it is emotionally gutting and if you have any triggers please be warned that this book likely contains all of them. I had to put it down multiple times to take a breather and read something a little lighter but I never regretted going back to it. Life is ugly and life is cruel but life is also filled with joy and laughter and love and hope.

Betty is a story of abuse and it’s long-lasting repercussions, of trauma and poverty, prejudice, and crushing grief but even more so it’s a love letter to a wonderful man and a strong young woman. It’s bleak and devastating and far more horrible than most any horror novel I’ve ever read (and I’ve likely read far too many!) but it’s also filled with beautiful traditions, an incredible amount of wisdom, love, beauty, resilience, and hope. You’re going to feel broken and beaten as you read the words McDaniel has put down on these pages but Betty is one of those books you will not be able to stop thinking about and one you will not regret reading after you’ve turned the final page.

There are so many gorgeous and quotable passages here but this one struck me the hardest and made my heart stop a minute with its raw, powerful, and blunt imagery.

“She’s going to scream, I thought. And it’ll be something real. Something we have to chain up in the backyard and feed with bloody steaks.”

5 out of 5 





Comments

  1. McDaniel sounds like an author I'd really like! Especially if her prose is magical and amazing. :)

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  2. Wow, that sounds like it was hard to read. Thanks for telling us about this one.

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    Replies
    1. It had some very difficult and heartbreaking moments. So many of them but I think it's going to be my best book of 2020.

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  3. Betty is on my TBR list. I'm looking forward to reading it!

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    Replies
    1. I can't wait to read your thoughts after you've read it.

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