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Book Review: The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton

Book Review: The Inheritance of Orquidea Divina

I shouldn't have left, but I did. It's my own fault. We don't talk. None of us. Why don't we ever talk? Silence is a language of its own in this family. A curse of our own making.
 
Inheritance of orquideaA novel about a family influenced by its powerful grandmother, who clearly possesses some sort of supernatural power (is she a bruja maybe?), familial inheritance of not just possessions but traits and strengths, and the way one decision can influence many generations. A novel compared to Alice Hoffman's and Isabel Allende's work. A novel with a traveling circus, a river monster, a mysterious sapphire ring, magic to cause the dead to speak with their bones, flowers growing out of human bodies. A novel with such a beautiful cover!
 
It seems like a novel I would absolutely love.
 
And I did love several things about this book. The concept of the story itself, which is that Marimar and Rey Montoya, cousins living in Manhattan, one day receive an invitation to come home to Four Rivers, where their grandmother Oquidea is dying. They and the rest of their aunts, uncles, and cousins have stayed away from Orquidea's home for many years, even though they all grew up there, and when they arrive they try to figure out what is happening, as Orquidea appears to be turning into a tree. From here were learn about Orquidea's history and more of Marimar's and Rey's stories. I always appreciate a book that moves skillfully between different time periods, and this one does that. I love that Orquidea's inheritance to her family members is potential. I loved the exploration of family stories, South American myth, and individual persistence.
 
It had so much potential, this one.
 
But I struggled with it. The story was intriguing but the writing style knocked me out of the story, over and over. Some of it was editorial, such as when Marimar plants a garden of seeds and daffodils are included in the list (daffodils grow from bulbs, not seeds), or the two times the text said "signing" when it meant "singing." But more, it was...slippery. I could imagine the places—Guayaquil, Ecuador; New York City; the home in Four Rivers—but the conflict and impetus seemed so vague. I couldn't understand why the cousins held such resentment of Orquidea and the process of her dying, the family members' outrage, was something I couldn't picture because of that lack of understanding. The small shifts in perspective into different cousin's point-of-view also threw me out of the story. Some of it was what happened in the story, such as Marimar's long solo stay at Four Rivers, which felt cloudy and vague in its purpose, and the mystery of who her father is (he "briefly escaped for a time" but that is a HUGE detail that is just not ever explained). It is hard for me to explain why I couldn't stay inside the book, and the reasons feel the same as why I didn't actually love it.
 
I can't say for sure if I am glad I read this book, even though I think some of the images will stay with me. I am glad I finished it, though, because I felt like it taught me something about writing.
 
(Although I am posting this in 2022, I finished it in 2021.)
 

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