A review by kolorful_kay_reads
Betty, by Tiffany McDaniel

challenging sad slow-paced
  • Plot- or character-driven? Plot
  • Strong character development? No
  • Loveable characters? Yes
  • Diverse cast of characters? Yes
  • Flaws of characters a main focus? No


“‘If a woman fell ill and was unable to tend her garden, then her garden would be planted by the other women,’ he said. ‘They would do it for her, allowin’ the sick woman to rest and get better because when they planted her garden, they planted her chance to get back her strength.’”

📝: Describing this book is difficult. First, the book is fiction. Much of the story is born in truth of what was passed-down as memories; these memories are then modified and told by the author (Tiffany) who is a generation down the line from those who lived these stories. In terms of describing the content, I would call this a starkly depressing coming-of-age novel set in Ohio in the 1950s and probably stop there.

👩: This was a book that I read wth my feminist book club! We picked this based on interviews with the author (who said she had trouble publishing it due the female-centric storylines); additionally, other people have noted the content itself is very empowering to women. Overall, this book failed my feminism assessment. More on this later.

🎨: Every artist makes decisions that aren't necessarily right or wrong - but will hit or not hit certain people. For my own experience with this novel, numerous choices simply didn't work. The first-person, past-tense narrative was chosen for this story but with *very little* future insight from our narrator. This works well for readers who want to read about the conversations of an 8-12 year old girl for 450 pages. In my viewpoint, this child views the people in her life with very little exploration; her family members are little more than their hobbies or trauma in her eyes - the actor, artist, victim, or ill. This is probably a very precise artist approach to take; however, this limits the amount of insight allowed to the reader and is a stagnant choice considering the length of the book. I personally have no desire for 450 pages of a children's view on the world, regardless of how "adult" her problems may be. That's my own beef - not necessarily something the author did "wrong."

❓This book left me with so many questions!
* What about this is a feminist novel? The eight year old demands to wear pants and not be a victim of sexual assault, sure. But the majority of feminist theory is directly related to the father's re-telling of his matriarchal and indigenous roots. Betty never sees her sisters as humans but in the rare moments they bond over trauma; I get that she's eight... but an 8 year old's version of feminism is not necessarily what fits the bill as outright "feminist."
* Why - in this book in which the family is seemingly not at all religious - is every chapter led by a biblical quote? I get that it foreshadows the chapter... but why the bible?
* What little future insight we received from our narrator was random and confusing. She would let you know that a character would die of xxx and the next page they're alive again! What's the point of future plot if there is no future insight? Why were those choices made?
* Did any readers find the value of the newspaper storyline to equate to the amount of space it took-up? If so, why?
* Why did characters appear for 2-10 pages, only to be never seen again? And their impact seemingly never carrying through the remainder of the novel?
* What would future Betty tell us about her father? He received so much kindness in her eyes as a child but clearly had his own issues with dissociation, like most other members of the family; she accepted his dissociation for most of the novel because he rooted himself in his religion and culture. But there's a difference between being observant and oblivious and I'd be curious to know what the Betty of today thinks of him. Did it change? Is it the same? Based on the authors interviews, I would assume that Betty's opinion has not changed with time.

View my full review and conversation at KolorfulKayReads on Instagram

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