Betty: Tiffany McDaniel
Reviewed By Steve Stred
Sometimes books come your way in the oddest of circumstances. Be it a friend mentioning they loved a book and sending you a copy, or you see a book getting buzz and it’s randomly in a Free Little Library as you walk by.
Or, in the case of ‘Betty,’ the author has reached out to a fellow reviewer due to geographical similarities. In this instance, Tiffany had reached out to my friend and fellow Team KR member Miranda Crites, as Miranda lives in Appalachia. Unfortunately, Miranda was unable to get to it by release date, so she offered it to the KR team. I’d seen ‘Betty’ mentioned a few times, but when I read Edward Lorn’s review, and then saw Laurie’s (aka Barks) I knew I needed to review this.
Miranda emailed Tiffany, who emailed me and voila, review copy on the Kindle. But that wasn’t just it. Tiffany and I exchanged a few emails back and forth, and wouldn’t you know, we also shared a number of similarities about where we’d grown up. While my early years were in BC, Canada, geographically – with the mountains – it was all so similar.
What I liked: If a book can physically manifest dread through an electronic reading device, this is the book. ‘Betty’ reads like a non-fiction book, where details are told matter-of-factly while the story rumbles along. Autobiographical in nature, we follow along with a family often one page at a time.
McDaniel has created something special here. Characters that evoked emotions, We have it all here. Coming-of-age, grief, trauma, abuse. We get to see how the world around these characters causes such pain, but unlike novels that focus on a small chunk of time, we get to see how these small ripples from a specific day, form into waves over a lifetime.
Am I saying anything specific about this book right now? Yes and no. This is a book that is very hard to review with specifics, as it is a book told through a perspective like the game of dominoes. Once the first piece falls, everything comes tumbling after.
So, I will say this; Betty arrives to a white mother and a Cherokee father. A one night stand that ends up getting her beat by her father, who in turns gets beat by Landon, the Cherokee man. This sets the stage early for what the reader will be in for. The moments of beauty are often a cloud sitting at the edge of the storm front behind it.
What I didn’t like: This book was a masterpiece. I struggle sometimes with books this well written. That may not make sense to some of you, but I was intimidated at times with how well written this was. I’m not a smart enough reader (or reviewer!) to fully verbalize what I’m trying to say, but there are moments in this book that are so crystal clear, perfect, you’ll need to set it down, go back and reread it.
Why you should buy it: I’ve long wanted to take a crack at ‘The Summer That Melted Everything,’ as that book is always hailed as amazing. It wasn’t until I started reading this that I put two and two together and realized it was the same author. Sad, I know! So, if you read that and loved it, I can’t see how you wouldn’t love this. It does take place in the same town, but I can’t say whether any characters appear in both. McDaniel is an amazing author, that is evident from page one, but if you are looking for a captivating and emotionally devastating story, ‘Betty’ should be high on your list of books to read.
‘A girl comes of age against the knife.’
So begins the story of Betty Carpenter.
Born in a bathtub in 1954 to a Cherokee father and white mother, Betty is the sixth of eight siblings. The world they inhabit is one of poverty and violence – both from outside the family and also, devastatingly, from within. When her family’s darkest secrets are brought to light, Betty 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 in her rural town of Breathed, Ohio.
Despite the hardship 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 she bears witness to, Betty discovers an escape: she begins to write.
A heartbreaking yet magical story, Betty is a punch-in-the-gut of a novel – full of the crushing cruelty of human nature and the redemptive power of words.
Steve Stred is the author of a number of novels, novellas and collections. He has appeared in anthologies with some of Horror’s heaviest hitters.
He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada with his wife, son and their dog OJ.
You can follow Steve on Twitter @stevestred
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