I’m not sure where to start. Maybe with the fact that this book’s message is that it’s a good idea to forgive your abuser because that will make them change.
I mean, I don’t know if that’s what this book was trying to be, but that’s what happens.
Tiffany Sly Lives Here Now is the story of Tiffany, a 16-year old black girl whose mother is dead. She has to move in with her father’s family – but they already have four other daughters, and Tiffany isn’t actually sure of who her father is.
Also, her new family are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Tiffany isn’t.
I really liked Tiffany. She’s a girl who recently went trough a traumatic event which affected her deeply; I liked her narration and I also loved the portrayal of her anxiety and OCD (finally a book with a mentally ill main character which is intersectional! Also the main character has more than one illness!), and the anxiety representation is ownvoices.
That’s where the good things end.
Tiffany’s dad is abusive. I feel like it wasn’t meant to come across that way, that he was just supposed to be a strict, religious person, but what happens in this novel is abuse, and the way it’s dealt (or: not dealt) with was, for me, disturbing.
What Tiffany’s dad does during this book:
• withholds Tiffany’s anxiety medication;
• withholds food and water from the three-year-old autistic daughter when she throws a tantrum;
• says he wants to cure his daughter’s autism;
• hits his autistic daughter;
• tries to force his faith on Tiffany;
• hits Tiffany when she talks back (once);
• doesn’t let Tiffany see her friend because he has two moms;
• controls his kids’ access to everything: texts, social media, internet, and does many other controlling things.
This isn’t being strict or religious, this is abuse.
And we’re supposed to think everything is fine because he apologizes at the end of the book? For this forgiveness theme to work, he needed to be a far less horrible person.
Let’s talk in detail about some things that bothered me:
Tiffany often talks back to her father, because he’s horrible, there’s no way around it, but even if it had been just teenage rebellion, he should never have hit her.
After Tiffany has been hit, she wants to leave, but then her grandma tells her that… she needs to apologize. And Tiffany does, and thinks she’s an hypocrite because she punched one of her classmates when she was angry and what’s the difference between that and what her dad did?
I don’t know, two decades of age? The fact that he’s hitting a minor? The power imbalance? Just thoughts.
Also, “your abusive father will change if you give him enough chances” is a dangerous message to give.
I almost never see YA books deal with what it means to have a religion forced on you, and when they do they often downplay the consequences. Tiffany’s dad forces his religion on her multiple times, and it was painful to read, because I have been in a similar situation. And then the book doesn’t deal with it properly.
Religious abuse isn’t usually considered serious because who is hurting you thinks they’re doing all of it for your own good, and if you try to talk about it with anyone, you get told about the good intentions.
(They make you feel terrible for not believing and for not believing that they’re actually helping you. From personal experience, what happens is that they think things like public humiliation are fine, because the end justifies the means! They’re saving you!)
Near the end, Tiffany’s dad apologizes for trying to force his faith on her, and says he can “respect where she’s right now”, but believes that “God will show Himself to her eventually!” and… from personal experience, that usually means “I won’t try to convert you right now, just later”.
I don’t buy it. I don’t buy anything about his character development.
Abuse of an autistic child
And to the last, most unnecessarily painful part of this book. Pumpkin, the three-year-old autistic girl, is repeatedly abused. Her parents hit her because she throws tantrums. She is a child with sensory issues who gets overwhelmed, and hitting her will not cure her sensory processing disorder or her autism.
Why was Pumpkin even autistic? Her family constantly hurts her, and the abuse isn’t even dealt with. Her dad says he wants to cure her (which can’t happen) and this is never challenged, and we’re supposed to think that by the end of the book everything is fine because he will try to learn more about autism…? And we’re supposed to forgive Pumpkin’s parents because they didn’t know any better. But they knew she was autistic, and yet they didn’t do any research.
This is the kind of book that makes me wonder whether the author ever thought that autistic people or people with sensory issues would read her book.
(one day I will find a book in which there is a character with sensory issues who is not laughed at or constantly abused. I’m tired of seeing characters like myself being comic reliefs, whiny side characters or victims.)
The rest of the book was mostly unremarkable. There was no romance, which I appreciated, but the friendship between Tiffany and Marcus felt fake because Marcus felt like a caricature (I… really don’t like the Chronically Ill Wise Young Person stereotype, it almost feels like inspiration porn and I’d rather not see that? Especially in a book where there’s already bad disability representation.)
My rating: ★