Jee reviews ‘Betty by Tiffany McDaniel’ @AAKnopf #bookreview #betty #bettybook #eARC #TiffanyMcDaniel #racism #sexism #abuse #comingofage #poverty #fiction #basedontruestory

Title/Author: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Publisher: Knopf 

In a nutshell (Publisher):

A stunning, lyrical novel set in the rolling foothills of the Appalachians about a young girl and the family 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 white mother and a Cherokee father, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit in the rural town of Breathed, Ohio, is one of poverty and violence–both from outside the family and, 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.

Despite the hardships 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 to which she bears witness, 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 have stung her so deeply she could not tell them, until now.

Inspired by generations of her family, Tiffany McDaniel sets out to free the past by delivering this heartbreaking yet magical story–a remarkable novel that establishes her as one of the most important voices in American fiction.

Pages: 462

My thoughts:

“Betty. Little ol’ me. I was born in 1954 in a dry claw-foot bathtub in Arkansas. When Mom went into labor on the toilet, the closest place she had to lay was in the tub. In the face of Flossie’s jealousy, I was named after Bette Davis.”

Betty, Tiffany McDaniel

Be prepared for your heart to be lifted, broken then lifted again. Be prepared for one of the most brilliant, based-on-real-life fictional novel of all times. McDaniel’s writing is breathtakingly beautiful; it sings and paints. She’s definitely born with the gift her Papaw Landon and her mother, Betty, who were storytellers in their own right. It’s no wonder her debut ‘The Summer That Melted Everything’ had won the hearts of so many readers, and become the recipient of the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. I have yet to read this.

‘Betty’ is based on the author’s mother and her life as a mixed-race girl from rural Ohio. Believe it or not, ‘Betty’ was written nearly two decades ago, when the author was 18, but was rejected by many agents and publishers who considered the novel too ‘dark’, and even suggested her to change her mother into a man. How times have changed in the publishing industry! Do this today, and you’d be cancelled.

Appalachian Mountains in Ohio. Southeast Ohio includes rural areas of the  state that border West Virginia. … | Appalachian mountains, Appalachian,  Mountain pictures
Appalachian Mountains in Ohio. Picture taken from here.

In the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, in the fictional Ohio town of Breathed, in a little Victorian-inspired two-story home in Shady Lane, were Betty and her other 5 siblings, her mother, Alka, a white woman, and her dad Landon Carpenter, a Cherokee Native American who worked in the mines.

Leland who was the oldest of the siblings and joined the army, Fraya mostly kept to herself but acted as a mother when Alka wasn’t available, Flossie was obsessed with Hollywood and becoming a star, Betty loved to write, Trustin loved drawing and was great at diving, and Lint, the baby of the family loved collecting rocks. The Carpenters belonged to the the Aniwodi clan, responsible for making a special red paint used in sacred ceremonies and at wartime, also known for its healers and medicine men.

Betty and her sibling’s lives were filled with stories told by their loving, doting father. Stories about birds, plants, rocks, and Cherokee legends like Selu, whose blood seeped into the soil could grow everything, or stories he created out of nothing like The Restless Star Catchers who can never stop flying because they have to catch stars which can never stop falling.

When Betty was bullied at school for her dark skin, when she was consumed by her family’s secrets, when she was overcome by troubles and worries, her father would unburden her with his stories. Naturally, the book opened with one of them – about his heart being made of glass, and within the glass is the bird God caught in heaven. When Betty asked why did God put a bird in there, he said,

“So a little piece of heaven would always be in our hearts. Safest place for a piece of heaven, I reckon.” And the little bird is a “glitterin’ bird and her whole body would shine like little fires of light the way Dorothy’s ruby slippers did in that movie.”

Picture of Betty taken from author’s page here.

“Through his stories, I waltzed across the sun without burning my feet.” She’d also write her own on scraps of paper, on napkins, on the floor, wherever she could, to escape into her own world.

I loved the heartwarming moments between Betty and her siblings, one of them during Halloween, when Betty wanted to be a princess but her mom forced her to be a witch and wrote ‘hag‘ on her cheek. Betty was made fun of and bullied by the trick-or-treaters. When she went home, her dad gave her little wings made out of leaves and told her she’s a princess because it’s in her blood. When she walked back out, her brother Trustin joined her. Before she could tell her what was she in her costume, he said, “I know what you are Betty. You’re an angel. Look at your wings.” He always knew how to make Betty feel better.

This book got me all tangled up in emotionssad, angry, disgusted, happy, love; it pulled at my heartstrings as much as tore it apart . Reading about what happened to Alka saddened and infuriated me, and her father repulsed me. The day when Betty and her siblings had nothing to eat, and their mom had them imagine themselves making and eating those doughnuts that didn’t not exist, got me teary-eyed. And the tragedy that befell Trustin broke my heart into a million pieces.

This book was heartbreaking, at times, unbearable; there was hate, anger, jealousy, bitterness, violence and abuse, but there was also so much love and compassion shown in the family. When you thought Alka was cruel, you’d be shown her tenderness and your heart would ache for her; when you thought Fraya was weak, she’d surprise you with her strength and tenacity, and when you thought Lint was always lost, you’d see how smart, strong and intelligent he was. And Betty, she was the sum of them all; always their squash, the protector, the one “who stretches her leaves to shade the ground and fight off weeds.” And Landon, their father, he was definitely the heart and soul of the family.

‘Betty’ is about a family who, despite their idiosyncrasies, despite their dark secrets, learned to cope and survive with what they had – each other, stories and nature. The novel also gives voice to all victims of rape and abuse, and to all the Bettys who are told they don’t deserve anything good in this world, that they are worthless, that they should just sit at the sidelines and watch the world go by.

Yes, ‘Betty’ was a really tough, challenging read. I had to pause many times and walk away from it, sometimes doubting myself to finish it. But I knew I had to. I wanted to. I wanted the abused to know I’m here, I see them, I hear their cries. I want them to know their voices count and that their stories matter.

This quote was one of the most heartbreaking in the book: “The heaviest thing in the world is a man on top of you when you don’t want him to be.”

This was a heart-shattering coming-of-age story, but one that was also filled with love and compassion written in the most captivating prose. McDaniel, thank you for sharing with us Betty’s story. It’d stay with me for a long time to come.

For a special write up about Betty’s family and to see some family pictures, click here

I was gifted a free eARC of this book by Jennifer, a kind, brilliant, influential book blogger with permission from the author, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.

But as you can see I also got myself my very FIRST special edition signed by the author. Yes, the book is just that good that I got to have a special edition copy!

Side note: I didn’t know much about Appalachian Mountains, so I googled and stumbled across this article about how people live in Athens County, Ohio, one of the poorest counties in the nation. Take a gander if you’re interested.

Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!

25 Comments Add yours

  1. Leslie says:

    Great review!! I have had this on my radar but hadn’t seen many people review it yet. I’m definitely going to add it to the TBR!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Leslie! Be warned. You must have tissues with you while reading. I cried many times!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Leslie says:

        Ahhh, Okay, thank you for the warning!!! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Rae Longest says:

    This one is definitely a must read. Outstanding review.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Rae! Yes, it is a must-read. I hope you’ll have the chance to read it too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Shalini says:

    This is a new book, new author. Fantastic review. Wow. You do read eclectic ones, don’t you?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Shalini! Yes I read all kinds except maybe romance 🙂 How are you?

      Like

      1. Shalini says:

        I am okay. How are you? How is little Adam? (apologies if I have gotten the name wrong)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jee Wan says:

        WE’re all fine here. Thank you for asking. And yes, you got his name right 🙂 He’s turning 2 soon 😀

        Like

    2. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Shalini! Yes I read most genres except maybe romance:) how are you, my friend?

      Like

  4. Rosie Amber says:

    I love the sound of this, I shall add it to my TBR. Thank you Jee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Hope you’ll get a chance to read it too, Rosie! 💕

      Like

  5. stargazer says:

    Sounds like an wonderful and emotional read. Interesting, what you say about this being rejected decades ago. Yes, luckily things have changed. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, stargazer! It was very emotional. This book is one of the best I’ve read so far.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. nsfordwriter says:

    Great review Jee, this sounds like a powerful book. It’s interesting to know that she couldn’t find a publisher but now times have changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Yes I agree. I’m glad times are changing for the better in the publishing world!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A truly beautiful review, Jee 🥰 I’ve never heard of this book but you’ve pretty much convinced me to add it to my TBR!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Stephen! I hope you’ll get a chance to read this too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Awe, Jee. I want to hug you right now. Your review is so touching. Normally I would have passed by such a read on the shelf without knowing its powerful content and that’s the thing…you just never know that you just walked by one of the best books ever written. Your review is amazing and I am struck by that story. Now I have to do my own research as to where to get the book. Btw, I love the Appalachian Mountains and have family there with colemining background but in WV. I am vaguely familiar with the poverty, segregation and drug issues present. These ancient mountains are my second home and are almost a world in itself, humming with history and nature. I can see how this read will be a rich culmination of all aspects in trials and tribulations.
    Great review, Jee. 👏👏👏 🤗

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Awww thank you, Scarlett! Yes I think if not for my Kindle, this book would’ve been drenched in my tears 😢 Wow do you visit your family in WV? The Appalachian Mountains sounds like a magical place. Wish I could visit there one day! And once again thank you for reading, sharing and leaving such a kind comment, Scarlett! I appreciate it 🙏🏼💕

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, Jee! Your review gave me chills! There is SO MUCH to love and feel strongly about in this book and you caught so many of my same feelings. The tenderness between (most of) the siblings, especially how they would console each other, it moved me so many times. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to read this review and to know you adored this book as much as I did. I am not worthy of your praise, but I thank you and I thank you for opening your heart to this gorgeous, powerful, everything novel and author. ❤️ xoxoxo

    (I commented in the wrong place- ack!)

    I also want to say I LOVE your picture of that glorious special edition!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      I can’t thank you enough for this chance to read this brilliant book, Jennifer! And thank you for your kind comment! I’m assuming I now have your permission to share your blog link? 😀 Have you received your copy of the book?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You do, Jee! And I did- thank you! Wait until you see my picture with all the editions! 😬 😂

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Wow… They dared tell her to change her mother into a man. That is absolutely insane. Whatever publisher that was merits to be denounced for such remarks! 😦 Fantastic review though, Jee! I don’t know how you do it, but you sure know how to pick the good ones to read! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Lashaan! This one came highly recommended by my blogger friend and from her review, I knew it was going to be good! One of the best books I’ve read so far!

      Liked by 1 person

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