“Was it possible for a house to be abandoned and still have four people living in it?”
On the surface, Tigers, Not Daughters is a ghost story. But that’s just on the surface. Yes, there are ghosts haunting the Torres sisters, but the examination in this story of what it means to be haunted goes beyond literal ghosts.
I almost don’t know where to begin reviewing this book because it has so many distinct elements that made me swoon. I suppose I can start with the title. The line is from King Lear, but it’s meant as an insult, thrown as a jab towards unruly daughters and how much burden they inflict on their father’s life. And without giving too much away, the subtext of this line is woven throughout this entire book. Mabry makes it an empowering statement, taking the power and making it entirely the girls. But there is still a hint of Lear in their father, though her intention of making the sentence belong to the daughters is still made absolutely clear.
Mabry’s writing felt as haunted as the story. Each page felt ethereal, moving with a hypnotic cadence that pulls you entirely into the story. But the true masterpiece of this writing style is that this haunting atmosphere is consistent throughout multiple perspectives––including a perspective written from a group, not a single character. It’s incredible and magnetic, ensuring that no matter what chapter you’re reading, you are never pulled out of the story.
“We were sick with regret. It felt like a bunch of slick worms writhing around in our stomachs. Regret. It’s so useless so much of the time.”
Now, the sisters.
I loved each one of them, uniquely and individually. Iridian is probably the one I identified with the most. Quiet and lost. At her age, I wanted to hide from the world too, escaping into fictional realities whenever I could. But then there’s Jessica, so full of fight and fire, but also haunted and lost and nearly extinguished by it all. I’ve been her too, frozen by rage, made small by turning that anger inside instead of out. And finally, Rosa. She’s determined in a way only the youngest can be. Unafraid but not because she doesn’t believe, she’s fearless in the way only belief can create. She believes. In her sister’s ghost, in her other sister’s, in herself.
Then there are the boys. The group from across the street who watches the sister’s. Not in a creepy way, although, maybe a little––these are teenagers after all. But closely, in the way you do when you’re young and full of so much life that it barely seems to fit inside your skin. They too go on a journey with the girls, but also entirely on their own. Coming to terms with decisions of their past while also deciding who they want to be in the future.
“How, Jessica wondered, could a person not absorb all the cruel and painful and scary things about life?”
I said in the beginning, this is a ghost story. Anna haunts them all, trying to speak in the infuriatingly cryptic way that is the only way the dead can speak. But this is also a story about how life haunts us. Iridian, Jessica, Rosa, and the boys. They are all haunted by themselves, by each other. The past and the present, all tied into holding them back from a thousand different futures. This is a story about coming to terms with all of that. Healing the wounds of yesterday so that we are brave enough to face tomorrow.
Tigers, Not Daughters is a beautiful book. There are layers, in the story, in the writing, in each character. It’s a book that will speak to the reader differently each time they read it, depending on what battles they’re fighting and what mood they’re in. It’s complex and emotionally riveting, packing soft punches and hard jabs in all the right places. I’d highly recommend the journey!
Thank you Algonquin Young Readers for sending me this beautiful book and including me on this blog tour.