Book: “Tigers, Not Daughters” by Samantha Mabry
Publishing Info: Algonquin Young Readers, March 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: 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.
Review: Give me a story with a good old fashioned haunting and I’ll probably be on board. Make that haunting a little deeper in meaning and I’ll be even happier. Sure, a random ghost is fine, but the ghosts of your past can be far more scary, given that’s the kind of haunting most people deal with in their day to day lives. I had this theme in mind when I bought “Tigers, Not Daughters” by Samantha Mabry, a story about sisters, loss, and unfinished business in both the spiritual sense and the literal sense.
“Tigers, Not Daughters” examines the life of the Torres sisters, girls who live in a house with their negligent and manipulative father, and who are grieving the loss of this oldest sister Ana, who died after falling out of a window. Jessica is filled with rage and making reckless decisions, while being caught up in an abusive romantic relationship. Iridian has pulled herself into her favorite book and into her own writing. And Rosa is trying to keep herself, and her sisters, together, while looking for a mysterious hyena that may or may not be roaming the neighborhood. All three perspectives of these sisters give us insight into how they’ve been coping with their loss, and how they are trying to move forward in spite of their own feelings of guilt and grief. We also occasionally get the perspectives of outsiders, usually from a chorus of neighbor boys who have been watching the Torres sisters for a long time. I felt that the way that Mabry interspersed all of these perspectives gave us an encompassing understanding of each sister and their emotional and mental states. The different ways each of them grieves are all very different, but they all felt realistic and well explored. And the ghostly presence of Ana adds a lot to their perspectives, seeing their personal interactions with her spirit and how that reflects how they left things before her death was clearly well thought out. I greatly enjoyed the haunting, an the unsettling descriptions of it.
What didn’t work as well for me was how rapid fire some of these perspective shifts could happen, as that tended to make the pacing feel a little rushed and stilted. We would be in Iridian’s perspective, then we’d jump to Jessica’s, then it would be Jessica’s again, then maybe the neighbor boy chorus. I also felt like the perspective that we were really lacking, and that we really could have used, was that of Ana. I definitely understand that by leaving her side of things out really emphasizes her absence, and how each sister feels like they were left not knowing Ana as much as they would have liked in the wake of her death, but the problem I had with that is that it made her feel more like an idea and just there to be a symbol, as opposed to a fully fleshed out person. And while I don’t think that Rafe, their father, needs to have much time spent on him, craven creep that he is, I feel like we could have known more about him. Was he this way before the girls’s mother died? Is his behavior a result of trauma, or mental illness, or sociopathy, or what? Again, we don’t need to focus in on him TOO much, but I think we could have known more.
So while it’s true that “Tigers, Not Daughters” didn’t quite explore as much as it could have for higher emotional impact, I did enjoy the straight forward haunting aspects of it. But something that also intrigues without much answer is that this is listed as the first in a series on Goodreads. Where could the Torres Sisters go from here? I’m kind of interested to find out where that ends up.
Rating 6: A ghost story about trauma, grief, and familial dysfunction, but it felt a little harried as it jumped from perspective to perspective without much time to process.