The Skin and Its Girl: A Novel (Hardcover)
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A young, queer Palestinian American woman pieces together her great-aunt’s secrets in this sweeping debut, confronting questions of sexual identity, exile, and lineage.
In a Pacific Northwest hospital far from the Rummani family’s ancestral home in Palestine, the heart of a stillborn baby begins to beat and her skin turns vibrantly, permanently cobalt blue. On the same day, the Rummanis’ centuries-old soap factory in Nablus is destroyed in an air strike. The family matriarch and keeper of their lore, Aunt Nuha, believes that the blue girl embodies their sacred history, harkening back to a time when the Rummanis were among the wealthiest soap-makers and their blue soap was a symbol of a legendary love.
Decades later, Betty returns to Aunt Nuha’s gravestone, faced with a difficult decision: Should she stay in the only country she’s ever known, or should she follow her heart and the woman she loves, perpetuating her family’s cycle of exile? Betty finds her answer in partially translated notebooks that reveal her aunt’s complex life and struggle with her own sexuality, which Nuha hid to help the family immigrate to the United States. But, as Betty soon discovers, her aunt hid much more than that.
The Skin and Its Girl is a searing, poetic tale about desire and identity, and a provocative exploration of how we let stories divide, unite, and define us—and wield even the power to restore a broken family. Sarah Cypher is that rare debut novelist who writes with the mastery and flair of a seasoned storyteller.
About the Author
Sarah Cypher has an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, where she was a Rona Jaffe Fellow in fiction, and a BA from Carnegie Mellon University. Her writing has appeared in the New Ohio Review, North American Review, and Crab Orchard Review, among other publications. She is from a Lebanese Christian family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife.
“Beautifully detailed as a piece of Palestinian embroidery, this bold, vivid novel will speak to readers across genders, cultures, and identities. Sarah Cypher weaves a brilliant tale of family, magic, and enduring legacy—a must-read.”—Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Fencing with the King and Crescent
“Imaginative, bold, and vividly drawn, Cypher’s tale of exile, inheritance, and the healing power of love will crack you open.”—Nadia Owusu, author of Aftershocks
“The Skin and Its Girl is a thrilling ode to the power of storytelling, to a story’s ability to illuminate and conceal, to preserve and destroy. Betty Rummani—born with cobalt-blue skin, into a family rich with ingenuity and secrets—is one of the most memorable and original protagonists I’ve come across in ages. She leapt straight off the page and made a home in my imagination. I loved falling under the spell of Sarah Cypher’s hypnotic debut.”—Laura van den Berg, author of I Hold a Wolf by the Ears
“Lush . . . captivating . . . With beautiful writing and evocative themes, this author makes a notable entrance.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Stirring . . . There are elements of magic realism in this captivating novel about the importance of family and story, but more importantly, the tale is enriched by the presence of fully realized, multidimensional characters. . . . [A] splendid first novel.”—Booklist (starred review)