BY TIFFANY McDANIEEL
A coming of age story that will stay with you long after you’ve finished, Tiffany McDaniel’s portrayal of Betty, a young girl growing up in rural Ohio comes straight from the soul.
Betty Carpenter arrives quickly into the world in 1954. The third daughter and fourth child of a family of six, her mother Alka is white and her father Landon is Cherokee. Landon is at one with nature and when the family are unexpectedly offered a home in the small community town of Breathed in rural Ohio, a run-down house which locals believe is cursed, Landon and his family move in. Unlike her siblings, Betty seems to have inherited all of her father’s heritage. Whilst her siblings blend in at school, Betty is bullied for her Cherokee appearance. Yet her family is tight knit and at the heart of it all, she has a deep-seated love and connection with her father. Landon teaches his children the power of medicinal healing using their natural surroundings and it is this mystic trait which sees them through poverty and hardship and which Betty and her siblings embrace.
McDaniel blends her love of nature and pride in her Cherokee history into the story and when the inevitable heartbreak strikes, it is always nature and their Cherokee traditions which allow Betty and her family to survive. Betty channels her difficult experiences by writing them down and if they are bad encounters she buries them in the land. Her closest siblings also find their own outlets to hardship: her elder sister Flossie dreams of being a movie star, her younger brother Trustin draws and Lint, the last baby who suffers demons, finds solace in wildlife like their father.
There is lots to discuss for your book club from the weight of family guilt and secrets through to inbred racism, generational abuse, sexism, mental health and the ever-present patriarchy and disregard for women’s dreams. This may sound overwhelming but the beautiful prose and the Appalachian mountains backdrop make for a wonderfully absorbing read. And most importantly, at the heart of the story is a young woman coming to terms with her heritage and seeking the freedom to choose her path in life. As Betty writes at the end:
‘I knew what my father did not know when he was alive. That he was more than a filler. He was a lifetime of wildflower fields. I feel like the grasses will always tell stories of him.’