“The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls” by Anissa Gray is being marketed as “The Mothers” x “An American Marriage” with mothering at the root of family deterioration as two members are imprisoned for a crime that has angered the community.
Respected restaurateurs Althea and Proctor Cochran are in prison over allegedly misusing donated funds for a flood in their town of St. Joseph, Michigan. As their reputation becomes tarnished, their teen twin daughters, Baby Vi and Kim, have to stay with Althea’s youngest sister Lillian. Another sister, Viola, lives in Chicago away from the family drama while a brother, Joe, lives a few towns away with his family as a church pastor. The Butler siblings – Althea the oldest, Viola, Lillian and Joe – lost their mother when they were young with their father becoming a traveling pastor barely home. Their mother’s premature death weighs like a cloud over them because of the circumstances they each dealt with living without their mother.
Althea married Proctor and found success at their restaurant. Lillian, who’s taking care of her nieces, is also taking care of her late ex-husband’s grandmother, Nai Nai, who’s Chinese and they still have interracial tension. Viola is breaking up with her wife Eva while dealing with the resurgence of the eating disorder she developed in adolescence. Joe, who’s had a strained relationship with his sisters, wants the nieces to stay with him and his family because he feels with religion he has the most stable household. Their father died years earlier, but his neglect still weighs on them. As they all battle their own demons, Kim is falling down a path of trouble until her implosion forces the family to unite to save her and Baby Vi.
Most of the book measures at three stars. The scenery doesn’t change much; the reader is either in Lillian’s home, which is the family home inhabited by their demons despite all the refurbishments, and the prison, mostly where Althea is. Incidents such as how Althea met Proctor when they were kids at her mother’s funeral are replayed often along with particular verses from her mother’s Bible. Kim is the twin who keeps finding trouble while Baby Vi’s character doesn’t seem that developed as she’s characterized as the twin who doesn’t stir any trouble. Proctor also fades in a way as the reader mostly gets the sense of his character from the letters he’s writing to Althea. The story really revolves around the Butler siblings while there’s still a focus on the twins, and since they are the children of the imprisoned parents, it would’ve been nice to see perspective chapters from them, too. All the chapters are first-person narratives from the sisters: Althea, Viola, and Lillian, while the other set of sisters, Kim and Baby Vi, need chapters. Even Joe needs a chapter to explain his feelings about his sisters compared to just his sisters’ feelings toward him.
Overall, it’s a complicated family story where ghosts from yesterday resurface amid the temporary loss of two members. The title and cover make the book stand out, but the title seems overdramatic for the story. Ravenous and hungry are synonyms and care and feeding are close in meaning in this context, so the title also gets too wordy.