cover image The Skin and Its Girl

The Skin and Its Girl

Sarah Cypher. Ballantine, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-49953-5

A young Palestinian American woman explores her identity in Cypher’s lush debut. Elspeth Noura Rummani is born in the U.S. in the early aughts during heavy bombing from the Israeli military. Her skin is blue, the same shade as the soap produced by her family’s factory in the West Bank, which is destroyed in the strikes, the last remnant of her family’s legacy in Palestine. In the present day, Elspeth considers emigrating to her lover’s unspecified homeland. Cypher frames Elspeth’s narration as a direct address to Elspeth’s great-aunt Nuha, who helped raise her and who’s recently died. Nuha’s a flamboyant presence, with her intimate knowledge of family history, brusque manner, and wealth of entertaining fables. Also, like Elspeth, Nuha was queer, though she kept this a secret from their family. Elspeth, though, hasn’t found acceptance because of her blue skin. As Elspeth considers whether she belongs in the U.S. or abroad, she meditates on the nature of skin to explore the contradictions between appearances and identity. It makes for a captivating stream of consciousness: “You were not a linear person, preferring to stuff your discomforts and difficulties inside eddies and convolutions.” With beautiful writing and evocative themes, this author makes a notable entrance. Agent: Adam Schear, DeFiore & Company. (Apr.)