Cover Image: The Skin and Its Girl

The Skin and Its Girl

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

I got an ARC of this book through Netgalley – it will be released on April 25, 2023. This is a beautifully written novel centered around Betty, a queer, Palestinian-American woman who is born with blue skin – a vibrant blue that is the same color of the soap that became the family legacy. The story starts with Betty visiting her aunt’s grave, trying to decide if she should stay in America or follow her lover to another country. From there, to figure out the answer, Betty unravels the many mysteries around her aunt’s life, learning about the many secrets she kept hidden for years. It’s a story about identity and love, and is all woven together in such a beautiful way.

Was this review helpful?

I think the best way to describe my personal opinion of this novel is to say I am very neutral about this title.

It was good at times but inconsistent and patchy at other times. The pacing and timeline were honestly throwing me off, as well as the whole 2nd person narrative. I don't think I've read many, if not any, books in the second person.

This book was beautiful on the page through wonderfully crafted visuals, almost to the level of poetry in Ocean Vuong's "On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous," but sadly the depth was lacking because of the timeline.

I enjoyed how some parts felt like a genuine conversation, but other parts of this very long novel felt run-on and very much like an information dump.

This entire novel is actually someone retelling the last twenty years, but it's supposed to be told within a day's conversation and to me, that's just not something I see that's very well written within the timeline of the story. The time frame of the last 20 years and the entire day's conversation were definitely not in a straight line and that's okay, but I expected a little more depth. I am excited to read other works by this author because I do really do like the storytelling aspect, especially the parts that were poetic.

Was this review helpful?

"Hiding one's true desires, day in and day out, was a type of skin. But in the old country, our heroine wore it out of habit. She knew no other way. There would never be any taking it all the way off. But now that she was buttoned inside yet another new skin, she felt like she was wearing two winter coats."

We all have inner lives, housed inside a carapace of skin. When you're a child and you experience the world's hurt for the first time, adults tell you that you'll need to grow a thicker skin to protect you from cruelty. Nuha Rummani has spent her life inside such a shell, first to change her name and identity, then years later to hide her romantic relationship with a woman to even those closest to her. Her niece, Dr. Natasha "Tashi" Rummani, is an accomplished neuroscientist who buries herself in work to hide her depression and suicidal ideation. Tashi's daughter Elspeth, nicknamed Betty, cannot hide inside her skin, for it's blue. Quite literally blue--descended from her long-deceased ancestors who washed themselves with soap containing indigo dye.

Nuha raises her grandniece with fables spun from the history of her family. What at first seem like fantastical myths of gazelles and fiery red birds with flowing tails have their roots in truth, and this book opens and blossoms as its kernels reveal themselves.

This book is a masterpiece. All the stars.

Was this review helpful?

“There is no truth but in old women’s tales.”

The Skin and Its Girl is told from the perspective of Elspeth “Betty” Rummani, a woman with dense blue skin who is on the verge of a life altering decision, who is visiting her Aunt Nuha’s gravesite in search for answers within her family history. Through recounting stories of her life and the women she grew up with, she ruminates on life, love, trauma, cultural and generational borders and interconnectedness, and the power of choice. (Vague spoilers ahead).

The concept of “the skin” is one that shifts and develops throughout the story as the reader learns more about the characters’ history’s, specifically Nuha’s. We learn that the more significant skin isn’t Betty’s bold blue skin, but rather Nuha’s adopted skin, taken on as a form of disguise, which has given her a sense of safety, as well as a sort of responsibility to hide within. I didn’t personally feel any stake in Betty’s decision to stay or go with her lover, and I wonder if that was intentional, in the way that the more important skin was Nuha’s, so were her decisions.

Although this story is beautifully meditative on questions of life and love and decision, there are some details that didn’t fully connect in my mind, mostly surrounding Betty's strange characteristics; her blueness, denseness, the chips in her skin, seeing the future, none of it clicked for me personally, but I would love to hear other people’s interpretations. I also didn't fully understand the purpose of the fire and her brother; was it solely to remind Nuha of the beginning of her life as Nuha Rumani? A sort of beginning of the end?

Despite my general confusion, I found quite a handful of quotes from this novel that really resonated with me. Here's a few that I think capture what I took from Cypher's story:

- “Love is, might be, feels like, a kind of fairy tale too -- one that can begin only once the story we thought we know blows apart”

- “There is literally no end to unanswered questions, questions we don't even know how to ask yet. Living is doubting. Living in doubt is a good thing.”

- “This is your history. Memorize it and tell it to anyone who will listen”

- “But whatever way your heart takes you, just go. Pick up the pieces later.”

- “When the waters of the world have run together again, everyone is a citizen of the same land -- their cries reaching over the unbroken water like long fingers”

Thanks NetGalley and Random House Publishing Group for access to an eARC in return for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I love Middle Eastern stories with strong female main characters. It give a glimpse into the lives they lead and what their struggle to survive entails. This is no different. It has the added twist of having a blue baby born, which medically is a thing, but this book gives it a more "magical reality" feel. From the description we know there are some skeletons in the family closet. The author takes the time to expose them and pull the reader along on the that journey. A very thought provoking read. Thanks Net Galley.

Was this review helpful?

an incredible story of a family through multiple generations. lovingly called betty by her great aunt, elspeth rummani is born blue. her mentally ill mother plans on giving her to a couple looking to adopt, but great aunt nuha encourages her to keep the baby. as elspeth sits by her aunt’s grave, she reflects on her childhood, her arab ancestry, religious stories, her family, and her sexuality.

full of poetic prose full of articulate diction and compelling characters, this novel is a work of art. cypher is able to weave fact and myth together in a way that is absolutely phenomenal. through heartbreak and laughter, we learn the story of the rummanis and their lives in both palestine and america. i was fully captivated by this novel, unable to put it down.

thank you so much to netgalley and they published for this arc in exchange for an honest review!

Was this review helpful?

A thrilling modern novel of magical realism, for fans of Salman Rushdie, Isabel Allende, and the Bookwoman of Troublesome Creek.

Was this review helpful?

A beautiful book exploring queer relationships and a woman coming into her own. Beautifully written and also some magical realism aspects. Loved it.

Was this review helpful?

NetGalley ARC Educator 550974

This is the tale of a woman coming into her own. She's faced with cultural pressure while solving the mystery of her family. Add to that the color of her skin. The writing was magnetic and will draw you in. I could see this winning many Academy Awards.

Was this review helpful?

This is one of those books that, despite being an intimate story, feels an epic. It's whimsical but visceral. It's laser focused on these two queer women but so vast and filled with characters who each could have had their own book. It feels like folklore, but it's also a craft masterpiece.

Everyone should read it.

Was this review helpful?

The Skin and Its Girl by Sarah Cypher is a beautiful look at a young woman exploring what it means to be queer as she unravels secrets of the past involving her family. A personal mystery that will keep your eyes gripped to the pages and your soul gripped to the characters.

Was this review helpful?

I really enjoyed this beautiful book. I loved the language used in the book and found so many phrases and passages to be beautiful enough to stop my in my reading. The way this novel looks at family history is unlike anything I've read this year and I cannot wait to recommend this book to others.

Was this review helpful?

A must read for queer Arabs, especially those of us living in the diaspora. Cypher tells one of the most beautifully written stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I love the characters of Betty and Nuha so much, especially the stories they shared with us as the readers. This book manages to be a family saga, magical realism, and a reflection of what it means to be alive all in one.

Was this review helpful?

This was one of the most unique and beautiful books I have read in a long time. The imagery and fanaticism in this story was mesmerizing.

Was this review helpful?

There's a lot of beauty to this novel, and the way it pieces together recollections as well as stories passed along made it read much like a memoir. It's all very tangible even in the wispy lyricism of the prose. That said, this same tendency makes it often seem aimless. In broader strokes it's easy to see much of it piece together into something coherent, and the themes are certainly well established, but on a more intimate level it often seems on the verge of losing itself. It's a story about the stories and secrets of Betty's aunt, but I still would have liked to know more about the protagonist herself, as the portions of the novel that directly relay her experiences in school are some of the most compelling, but are unfortunately rather sparse and leave something to be desired as far as Betty's development going. And before that point, when she's too young to have any real participation in the story beyond an object being spoken about, any momentum that would be provided by her present voice is absent, so it takes a minute for this novel to really kick into gear, and often seems to wander in circles.

Still, it's intriguing and beautiful throughout, and often rather affecting, supported by a tapestry of characters who sometimes feel inaccessible but nevertheless coalesce into the puzzle of Betty's background and family.

Was this review helpful?

Interestingly written, a little confusing, jumbled timelines and numerous characters combine to make an oddly attractive novel spanning generations. It took me 1/3 of the book to get used to the florid writing style, which I found a little off-putting but still intriguing. Not an action-packed story, the novel exposed me to themes and locales that I've had very limited interactions with. I'm glad I read it.

I received a complimentary copy of the novel from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

The Skin and Its Girl compels readers to dedicate their attention entirely to the narrative. Readers are, from the first page, immersed in the magical realism of Betty's cobalt blue existence. The reality of complicated family dynamics, cultural identity, and otherness strike a balance between whimsy and harsh reality. A multilayered family saga debut that doesn't shy away from taboo or sink into saccharine sentimentality.

Was this review helpful?

Betty Rummani's birth changed many things for her family. Her parents had divorced and her mother did not think she could raise a child, so the plan was to put the baby up for adoption. However, she was born without a heartbeat. When it finally started beating, the blue tinge to her skin did not disappear; in fact, it stayed permanently. When her Aunt Nuha saw this blue little girl, she did everything she could in order to prevent Betty from being adopted. And so her story began. In the present, Betty is at the grave of her Aunt Nuha, filled with questions about both the past and the future. The stories Betty tries to untangle to help her figure out her place in the world and in her family all seem to rest with her deceased aunt and the notebooks where she wrote her stories. A beautifully crafted story of the power of lies, family, and our place in the world.

Was this review helpful?

This book is truly breathtaking from the first page. I have rarely been so impressed by the tone of writing, but the ability Cypher has is unparalleled. A truly compelling story of self-discovery and family, I would recommend The Skin and Its Girl to the young adults in my life and those who are learning to navigate the rocky relationships between parents and their adult children. A wonderful read that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you @netgalley and @penguinrandomhouse for the ARC of Skin and it's Girl.
This was a beautifully written novel. The prose was lyrical and smooth. It was a new take on family and love. I really liked the style of first person, but the main character, Betty, is talking to her aunt in second person. The book starts off with a bang with the birth of Betty. She is born to a single mother who is giving her up for adoption. However, Betty is born with blue skin which changes the trajectory of her life. She grows up with her mother, grandmother, and great aunt. The first half of the book describes Betty's life as a child and in the second half, describes the trials and choices that Betty faces as a queer Palestinian American women.

Was this review helpful?