Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (Review)

He wasn’t the villain in our story because villains typically have spines. He was lower than that – the ultimate, ultimate unrepentant coward.

I requested this a while ago, and when it popped up on my Netgalley dashboard as accepted, I couldn’t remember what it was about. I started it anyway and I don’t know how I ever forgot this book. Tigers, Not Daughters is a one-sitting kind of book, I couldn’t put it down for a second until it was finished. I was utterly addicted to it.

Rating: 4 stars!

Thanks to Algonquin Young Readers and Netgalley for the review copy of this book. It has not affected my honest review.

Trigger Warnings:

Grief, loss, abuse (physical, verbal and coercive control), alcohol abuse.

Read me for the:

  • Little Women but make it gothic.
  • Fantasy and contemporary blended.
  • A ghost with an agenda.
  • A family-centred love story.
  • Sisterhood 💝

The plot:

The Torres sisters: Ana, Jessica, Iridian and Rosa, are desperate to escape. They want to escape their widowed father; needy, drunk and angry. They want to escape their San Antonio neighbourhood that’s full of old families, traditions and expectations. In the summer after she finishes her senior year, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her surviving sisters are consumed by grief and haunted to their hearts by her memory. Their dream of escaping seems out of reach until strange things start to happen. The house is full of unexplainable shadows, mysterious laughter and writing on the walls. The sisters begin to think that maybe Ana is there, that she’s trying to send them a message and they start to wonder what, exactly, she’s trying to say.

What did I think?

“You don’t have to do it alone, but you have to do it.”

I was blown away by this book. Considering I had absolutely no expectations going into it, I felt intoxicated by the prose. I’m usually a little leery of reading books focused solely on grief. I’m very, very easily upset by books (and by most things, I’m baby) so I started this book with a heavy amount of caution. It was handled beautifully. The writing was musical and powerful, and handled the extremely dark topics that this book covered with a deft touch. More than that, I loved that the characters felt absolutely and unrelentingly real. They were flawed, and that’s what made them perfect narrators. There’s nothing I love more than female characters who have human, ugly sides, not just their good, beautiful sides.

Each of the girls is processing Ana’s death in their own way, and it leads to a fractured and complicated narrative split across Jessica, Iridian and Rosa’s perspectives, a year after Ana died. The relationships between them are heavy and strained by grief and by the trauma of living in their family home, now shadowed by the emotional ghost of their lost mother, and the more physical ghost of their sister. We meet Ana through her sisters’ memories of her, rather than from her own perspective, and I was amazed by how Samantha Mabry managed to create such a whole and complete character from little snippets of her life. We know Ana by the end of the book, and know that she’s dedicated to protecting her family, and raising them in their mother’s absence while still trying to be herself. It’s a hard balance to find, and when the weight falls across the surviving sisters, they struggle to take it.

Iridian is haunted more than her sisters, by something that she can’t bring herself to talk about, and she’s trying to find herself in Ana’s romance novels and in her own writing – desperate to create a story of her own and a world that she alone has power over. Rosa believes Ana has been reincarnated in an escaped hyena, and will risk anything to find her sister’s spirit and protect it from the rest of the community who live in fear of the beast. Jessica is Ana 2.0. She wants to be just like her sister. She takes her sister’s room, her make up, her clothes. She takes her sister’s abusive boyfriend too, punishing herself for not being enough like Ana.

The prose itself is as harsh and beautiful as the girls it describes. I was astounded by the way that Samantha Mabry managed to fit the prose so perfectly to the tone of the story, lyrical and soft in places and razor sharp and uncomfortable in others. Where this book could have been suffocatingly sad, the Torres sisters were fighters and they drove the story upwards. I couldn’t look away because I needed to see their futures and I needed to see them empowered. They brought a glimmer of hope into the story even when they weren’t feeling it themselves, and Tigers, Not Daughters is a tale of female strength and empowerment that I could never have expected. I think Ana would be proud of her sisters.

Links:

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Pre-order at Amazon (not affiliated) and if you can, please support your local indie booksellers!

One thought on “Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry (Review)

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