Book Review: Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Fraya says it means you’re a woman.” “Why we have to bleed to earn it?” Flossie slammed her fists on the mattress. “What happens when we get old and it stops? What then? We stop bein’ a woman? Ain’t the blood that defines us. It’s our soul.

Heroes are bestowed with superhuman abilities. Idolising them might be our favourite pastime as they come swooshing in to save the day with their godlike strength. It is easy to revere these characters whose powers surpass a common man’s imaginative boundaries.

Tiffany McDaniel’s Betty, too, is bustling with heroes. Unlike their movie counterpart, ones here lack special abilities, thereby preventing their rescue-civilian-operation. However, it doesn’t restrict them from making a lasting dent in a reader’s mind.

The story, narrated from Betty’s perspective, begins with her parents’ impromptu meeting and, eventual, eloping. The Carpenter family-saga almost gives an impression of one taken from personal struggle. Betty’s relationship with her father is a poignant theme in the book. While having a meagre livelihood, her father’s intimate connection with nature helps provide for his family. He’s a dreamer, a storyteller and a proud Cherokee. Growing up inhaling her father’s stories, Betty too believes in the cosmic power of these ancestral tales.

Betty’s difference is hammered on her malleable mind by society from a nascent age. Her father is a Native American, while mother a caucasian. Her dark skin and hereditary are why she doesn’t fit in Ohio’s white-washed conservative town.

What do you do when the two people who are supposed to protect you the most are the monsters tearing you to pieces?

McDaniel’s prose, laced with detailed beauty, rips you to shards and connects you back like a jigsaw puzzle. It explores feminism, racism, missed opportunities, abuse, and lost childhood. While coming of age, Betty witnesses women around her objectified and whittled down to their sex. Her own mother is battling a traumatic past which becomes a constant accomplice.

As her innocent eyes hide family secrets, she explains the significant role played by every Carpenter, no matter how brief. The pain they afflict on each other is just the way of expressing vexation behind unfulfilled dreams.

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