Anissa Gray has worked in both print and broadcast journalism and is a senior editor at CNN Worldwide. Her debut novel “The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls” seems at first glance to present a recognizable family-in-crisis story. It turns out to be a thoughtful meditation on the long reach of childhood trauma.
When Althea and her husband Proctor, highly respected leaders in the community, are arrested on charges of food stamp fraud and charity embezzlement, they leave their twin teenaged daughters in the custody of Althea’s sister Lillian. The twins are having an understandably tough time at school and out in the world. Many of the family’s friends and neighbors are feeling shocked and betrayed and translate those feelings into hostility toward the entire family. Both Althea and Lillian are worried that they haven’t heard from their younger sister Viola, who was expected to travel from Chicago for the sentencing.
These circumstances alone offer plenty of opportunity for conflict, resolution and growth. But Gray slightly shifts the focus from these present-day troubles to the childhood story of Althea and her siblings, opening a bigger narrative about the varied reactions to neglect and the consequences.
The three narrators of the novel are sisters Althea, Lillian and Viola. They are close but keep secrets from each other. Readers learn about what they endured after their mother died and their father left them alone often to fend for themselves.
Viola is working as a successful therapist for girls with eating disorders. The family drama and the prospect of returning to her childhood home is reawakening her own eating disorder. Gray does not shield readers from the harsh realities of Viola’s disease. Her descriptions of Viola caught in a binge and purge cycle are both graphic and moving.
The three sisters work to accept their own complicated stories and to repair their relationships. Readers part with these characters not expecting their lives to be suddenly carefree and joyful, but with hope that they are on a path to better lives.