Cover Image: The Skin and Its Girl

The Skin and Its Girl

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

"The whole of human history grew out of our demolished origins: a story in a mess of fragments."

This is one of those books that I’m scared to write a review about, because nothing I can say can do justice to the incredible writing in The Skin and Its Girl. It also hits very, very close to home for me in a lot of ways, in coming from a mixed family and growing up feeling like an alien compared to everyone around you and losing a maternal figure who you looked up to throughout your childhood, so like, bear with me please.

The Skin and Its Girl touches on so many themes running through the life of one sprawling, messy immigrant family, so I don’t know that I can say definitively what it’s about. It deals with queerness, motherhood, mental health, family dynamics and secrets, love, grief, political unrest…it all comes together to paint such a rich, realistic portrayal of the life of its main characters. The story is told as a recounting of the main character Betty’s life, but also the life of the great aunt who raised her (there’s a lot of second-person here, which may not be everyone’s thing but I love it). Betty narrates the story at her aunt’s grave, and there are certainly plenty of heavy moments in the story, but it’s ultimately a story driven by hope and love and a relentless push toward a better future.

Sarah Cypher also does an incredible job with the writing here. She strikes a very delicate balance between thoughtful, intelligent prose and compulsively readable storytelling; there’s so much going on in the language of this book but it’s so easy to read for hours and not even feel the time passing. Not many writers pull that off as successfully as in this book.

I really have nothing bad to say about this one. Please give it a try if it even slightly piques your interest.

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

Was this review helpful?

A few weeks later, I can barely remember the plot, but I loved the writing. A girl is born with bright blue skin and lives life surprisingly normally given those conditions and I'm sure it's all a metaphor. I dunno. I like it.

Was this review helpful?

Mood: You want a map in hand while ancient voices playing backseat driver help to find your destination in the world. You want a story that connects not only people but myths to both the past and present, creating an anchor in their shared experience. You want a character who may be different but is authentic to who they are, and the problem isn't this difference but how others react to her, You want women to be celebrated for their strength, resilience and wisdom. You want queer representation, grace with mental illness, and a story that recognizes conforming isn't the answer. You want a story that creates space for those who see themselves as different. You're looking for a book that stimulates the intellectual analyzing of complex histories and families, generations of trauma, and grants hope.

This book will meet this and so much more.

Was this review helpful?

This was absolutely beautiful. A family saga with an amazing cast of female characters. The main character, Betty, is visiting her Auntie Nuha's graveside and we journey with her through her family history as she tries to decide if she should stay in the only home she's ever known or follow her heart to be with her beloved. The writing was incredible, there is magical realism, mythology and folklore, family secrets, coming of age, and great representation (mental illness, LGBTQ+, Arab identity). Go read it, The Skin and It's Girl is a contender for my best book of 2023.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Balantine for the ARC.

Was this review helpful?

- thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an arc to review!

- the story was alright. the writing style was engaging to me, describing things well in second person pov, which i thought the author did well at. the characters did lack a little, but it wasn’t much of a bother, as they were built up more as the story went on. overall, a solid book.

Was this review helpful?

Upon first try, I thought I wouldn't be able to read and relate to this book. It took a bit of time for me to pick it back up and I ended up enjoying it. The different perspective took some time to get used to, but the overall story and beauty in the writing was worth trying again. Nothing hit home for me in a deep way, but I appreciated the bits that made it up instead of the story as a hole.

Was this review helpful?

This is Cypher's debut novel, and I requested it because I had heard it hyped, and the premise interested me - a girl who is born blue and family secrets? Hell yes. What I found was so much more. This story is about the stories we tell to our families and to ourselves and how they shape us, how you can be shaped by your family, and how a young girl finds herself among all these other things. It's honest about mental health, queerness, and how you find yourself among all these things, and the prose is gorgeous as hell. It feels almost mythic-poetic at times, and is just incredibly well written, especially as it comes to its final reveals. Definitely pick this up, it's a hell of a debut and worth your time and then some.

Was this review helpful?

If one debut should be on everyone's list this year, it's Sarah Cypher's searing and lush novel The Skin and Its Girl.

Like so many stories, The Skin and Its Girl begins with the birth of a baby girl––but unlike other stories, the baby is born with vibrant blue skin. The Rummani family's centuries-old soap factory in Palestine is destroyed that same day. The matriarch, Aunt Nuha, believes the baby embodies their legendary history.

Years later, Betty faces the difficult decision to either stay in the United States or follow her lover across the world, continuing the exile her family has met for centuries. Using Nuha's notebooks and her memories, Betty finds her answer in her aunt's life and struggles but finds much more than an answer.

Throughout the novel, the writing kept making me pause with awe. Lush and thoughtful, the writing alone makes The Skin and Its Girl an engaging and beautiful read for the reader who takes their time to soak up and piece together the narrative.

Cypher weaves themes of trust, loyalty, and heritage effortlessly into the multilayered tapestry of Betty's memories, musings, and stories. She also draws on Palestinian legends and stories to connect Betty's present to Nuha's past and their family's history. The best example of this complexity is the skin plot device used for Betty and Nuha, which is used in vastly different ways but parallel throughout the novel. I won't spoil it, but this theme builds to a grand reveal that connects every memory, assumption, and story told in The Skin and Its Girl. Cypher's exploration of these themes, with the added layer of legends and history, make this debut a complex but utterly enchanting read for anyone interested in character studies.

Oh, and the twist concerning Nuha! It was Completely unexpected and nicely connected Betty's memories, stories, and assumptions of Nuha without giving it away too early. I won't spoil it, but it really took the skin metaphor to another level, so kudos to Cypher for that clever turn of events.

My only gripe with The Skin and Its Girl is that the ending was rushed in order, and Betty's decision wasn't entirely fleshed out––nonetheless, it's a masterful debut.

Stellar writing, deeply nuanced characters, and a hint of magical realism culminate in a debut that should be top of everyone's TBR this year.

This ARC was provided by Ballantine and Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. Follow @bergreadstoomuch on Instagram for more!

Was this review helpful?

I am torn about my feelings when it comes to this novel. On its head, I think it's a great story and I enjoyed reading it - but there was something about the writing style that turned me off a little bit. Maybe it felt a bit disconnected? I'm going to sit with my thoughts a bit longer before and return to this review when I have a bit more time to think.

Was this review helpful?

I loved the idea of The Skin and Its Girl (that it follows the difficulties of living an authentic queer life through a story about a girl born with blue skin). The execution left me a bit cold, though. There's a lot going on in the story and the novel can't quite decide if it wants to commit to magical realism. The experimental wording can also frequently feel overly complex and inaccessible. Altogether, this is a good idea imperfectly told.

Was this review helpful?

Even though I enjoyed the premise of this story, its length and meandering structure was a drag at times.

Cypher's blue central character has a lot to tell and it is linked indelibly to her mother's history and thus family dysfunction. We are moved through this tale by an all-seeing narrator who is also our central character, who relays what is told to her as if she had been there. This made me unsure of just how to appreciate her voice.

Was this review helpful?

Starting off with this STUNNING cover, so amazing, right?

This book was so beautifully written, but I’m going to be honest, it was really hard to follow.

The novel’s narrator is Betty, and in the story she’s visiting her aunt’s gravestone, and the narration is as if Betty is talking to her throughout most of the novel.

There’s time jumps, sometimes the story is told from the POV from the aunt and the aunt is telling other stories to Betty as a child, Betty’s mother’s mental illness plays a big part in certain areas, oh and also Betty has blue skin. And it’s not a metaphor, her skin is actually blue and while it plays a part in the story I’m not sure why the author chose that? And the over arching storyline is Betty is narrating as an adult now and she’s trying to figure out if she should move away with the woman she loves, but that gets lost it so many of the other things going on.

This story truly shines when we are in Betty’s childhood, and we are getting her story, and the aunt’s story. I was really into it early on, and then the story would trail off, then when it was back on track chronologically I was focused again. I think maybe the author was just trying to do too much for one novel

But the writing really is beautiful, so I’m looking forward to the author’s second novel.

Thank you @netgalley and @randomhouse for sending this book for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

The Skin and Its Girls is a poetic, lyrical novel about multiple generations in a Palestinian family. For me, it was a slow burn, and it took a few attempts to become immersed in the story. The theme of skin as an outer membrane that covers up our true, honest inner selves is beautifully woven through all the characters. Cypher uses myths and folklore to create a complex tale that slowly unfolds, revealing deep connections and revelations. Her use of imagery and sensory details is remarkable, and I found myself highlighting phrases on almost every page. I would need to reread the book to truly understand all of the layers in this story.

The story is told by Betty to her aunt Nuha in the second person. This point of view worked well for this book, but was challenging for me, as a reader. Additionally, there were many characters who jumped through different time periods, which was confusing at times.

My thanks to NetGalley for an Advanced Readers Copy of this book. All opinions are my own and not biased in any way.

Was this review helpful?

An incredible debut. The writing here is phenomenal, with language that is really evocative of Arab storytelling and Orthodox liturgies. Fables and tales come back over and over throughout the novel, with little changes to complement the story.

This is a story of a girl that was born, died, and came back to life... but blue. The novel follows Betty throughout her life, tracing her relationships to the three most important women to her, but mostly to her great-aunt Nuha, a strong and willful and funny survivor of a woman. Betty sits at Nuha's grave, retelling Betty's life story, while trying to make the decision of whether to move with her beloved to a new country, or stay in the US.

There are just so many layers to this story, with topics of mental health, queerness, Arab identity in the US, post 9/11 sentiment, coming of age, secrets, fables all woven into the strands of Betty's reflections. It was beautiful and funny and heartbreaking. Arab-Americans especially should pick this one up, but really if you like character studies, this is for you.

Was this review helpful?

Started strong but could not get into the writing. Could have also been my headspace but felt very repetitive and the blue skin wasn't really explored enough in the beginning as much as I'd have liked

Was this review helpful?

I thought this would be magical realism/literary fiction but it was just literary fiction which is fine but literally our main character has blue skin. How is this not magical realism? Maybe i'm nitpicking here though. I expected more and did find myself a little bored. I think it was well written but the WAY it was written didn’t work for me, it felt very back and forth. I really liked the beginning though, it started off strong until I lost interest. I thought it would rip my heart out but it did nothing of the sort. Not a bad book at all but I just don’t think I was in the right mood for this unfortunately.

Thank you to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book!

Was this review helpful?

I highlighted this book on my Booktube channel. The video can be accessed here:

Was this review helpful?

Thank you so much to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read this incredibly moving book early!

I have to say that books rarely make me cry, but this one achieved the impossible. This poignant and heartfelt story about generations of women stronger than anyone knew, identity, and belonging truly hits home for many queer people. That is what makes for an excellent story: one that shines a light on a new experience but also is one within which many people can see themselves, or people they love. Beautiful prose and gut-wrenching storytelling comes together in a beautiful package.

This is a masterwork of storytelling and I know I will screaming about it from the rooftops for years to come. For fans of A Woman is No Man and The Thirty Names of Night, this is one book you will not want to miss.

Was this review helpful?

THE SKIN AND ITS GIRL by Sarah Cypher is such a fascinating, original story. It's a wonderful example of direct address and the novel's structure works well to support the story. Aunt Nuha is utterly compelling. Even though the author reveals part of the character's story (and backstory) very slowly, the clues we get about Aunt Nuha keep the pages turning.

Was this review helpful?

Despite watching many Fast & Furious movies and understanding family is something a person more often finds than is born into, I’ve always wanted biological queer elders. In this fantasy, an uncle or grandmother or second-cousin-twice-removed catches my eye at family dinners — humoring my feelings of disconnect from the everyday antics of the heteronormative nuclear family structure. They’d bring me to my first Pride, take me to an annual screening of Paris is Burning, let me be the flower girl at their gay wedding, and give me formative LGBTQ literature when I needed it most. To some extent, they’d be proof I was not an anomaly.

Like any fantasy, it’s a frothy confection worthy of interrogation.

Who could say I would get along with this imagined relative? That we’d share the same politics? Love the same queer poets or cringe at the same Drag Race contestants? That they’d be willing to mentor me at all? And saddest of all hypotheticals: what if I actually already have a queer elder and will never know it thanks to the historical closet or a very valid modern fear of being out?

I found myself returning to these fantasy-haunting questions as I read The Skin and Its Girl by Sarah Cypher.

In Cypher’s debut novel, a narrator speaks to her dead auntie in the hopes of gleaning some insight about a life-altering decision on her horizon. Elspeth, affectionately referred to as Betty by her late Aunt Nuha Rummani, must choose whether to follow the love of her life to another country or remain near her troubled mother.

If the stakes don’t seem high enough yet, consider that Betty is a queer woman born with skin as blue as the soap her Rummani family once made in Palestine. Consider that her greatest ally has been long dead, her mother’s mental health is in decline, and her existence is one of exile — national, emotional, sexual, and generational. In this moment of need, Betty leans on a queer elder.

But when one has a sprawling family capable of holding grudges and secrets with equally strong death grips, finding answers or advice isn’t simple.

Cypher takes the legacy of the Rummani family, once wealthy and powerful, and distills it in Betty. Through gradual epiphanies and prose that has a mythological quality, Cypher’s protagonist comes to understand the true weight of familial history and the untapped power of her singular future.

This is a story which understands the (terrifying) power of storytelling. That a family can define a person’s entire sense of self through a series of seemingly harmless anecdotes. You may always be the cousin who wrecked their very first car. Or the otherwise obedient daughter who jumped out of a treehouse. Or the father who never remembered the names of your children’s closest friends. The wrong story can lead you through fatal chapters of life and on to unhappy endings.

But a loved one also has the power to describe you back into yourself, buoy you with personal myths and fables that lend you courage and comfort. The phrase “there is no truth but in old women’s tales” is repeated throughout the novel to drive home this point. Betty returns to her aunt’s grave — despite their differences, despite her aunt’s stubbornness and repression, despite time — because Nuha gave her a necessary story. Gave her stories like a second skin to deflect the narrative nonsense of daily life.

The Skin and Its Girl has provoked some readers to lament its nonlinear timeline. But this novel embodies magical realism so well because of its frequent time-hopping. The magic comes from Betty’s skin (as well as seductive gazelles, burning but unharmed boys, and the Tower of Babel), while realism is found in its frayed and knotted narrative threads. By some measure, Betty cannot proceed forward until retelling the story of her life. She cannot continue without knowing her family history, no matter how interwoven it is with pain and loss.

As Aunt Nuha used to tell her beloved niece, “...a piece of yarn stretched out in a straight line is a waste of wool.”

I finished this novel while making some rather big decisions about my own future. It helped me understand the balance between what we owe to those who raised us and what we owe to ourselves. I don’t (to the best of my knowledge) have a queer elder to reckon with, but I’m proud to have taken some of my personal myths back into my own hands. For the first time in years, I’m telling my story in a way that makes sense, even if it is only to myself.

Was this review helpful?