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Book Review: Searing, provocative, and soap opera-worthy drama in "The Skin and Its Girl"

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!

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