The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls, by Anissa Gray****

Anissa Gray’s debut novel doesn’t politely tiptoe into the literary world; it kicks the door in. The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls is about a dysfunctional family, and about the way society has failed some of its most vulnerable members. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House for the review copy. This book is available to the public today.

Althea and her husband Proctor are the heads of the family, owners of a local restaurant, and the organizers of a local charity to help those impacted by the Great Flood. The community has rallied round them. New River Junction is down on its luck, what with the layoffs at the mill and the decline in tourism; but the people of Southern Michigan are the salt of the Earth, and so when the Cochrans ask them to pitch in for the cause, they do. It’s a warm feeling. 

But when an informer calls the police and the Cochrans are arrested for fraud and embezzlement, hell hath no greater fury than the citizens that have been bilked. It’s a small town. There aren’t a lot of places to hide. 

Reader, I once had a glass dish that broke into a zillion pieces with no apparent provocation; perhaps it was a vibration, or a change in temperature in the room. One minute I was reading my newspaper, and the next, there was the sound of breaking glass. It was so sudden. And in the same way, Althea’s family is shattered; Althea is arrested, and her sisters and daughters are undone. The private burdens that each carries, traumas left unspoken and injuries long buried now grow and loom, and with each angry phone call, each hate letter, each act of vandalism committed against them—the family members presumed to have benefited from Althea’s ill-gotten gains—their mental health issues fatten and swell. Lillian’s anxiety issues ramp up and Viola’s eating disorder spirals out of control. And the twins, adolescents that have to face the taunts of their classmates and the side-eye glances of the faculty, have no healthy adult in their lives to help them. Kim, Lillian notes, has become “full-on feral now.”

The story is almost entirely character based, and even so, Gray does a lot here. It’s a complex story and at times I wonder if she’s tried to do too much. But she brings it all together at the conclusion in a way that is consistent and believable. 

At one point I reflect that no family has this many mental health disorders among a handful of people, but the minute I consider it, I know that’s not true. I feel as if I might have taught some version of the Cochran girls. Families like this tumble down together in just this way, like a pile of heavy dishes stacked on a flimsy cardboard box. When there is no strong foundation, the whole structure collapses. 

For that reason, this story may most appeal to those that work in the helping professions: teachers, counselors and other mental health professionals, nurses and social workers will see this family and recognize it. And feminists will appreciate the resolution, which does not devolve around some handsome knight rushing in to save the day. 

This story is one of a kind. If you need to know what the buzz is about, you had better get a copy for yourself before they’re gone. 

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