Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry: Five Stages of Grief

Hi friends and welcome to my first MORAL OF THE STORY post! Moral of the Story is a series where you come to understand more about young adult books. It looks like an essay I made on my literature class, but make it YA books instead. Here, you’ll find character studies, hidden messages, endings explained and many more along the way! I’m so excited to share it with you guys.

So, for my first post, I’ll be analyzing Samantha Mabry’s new book, Tigers, Not Daughters. I hope you enjoy!

by Samantha Mabry

Expected publication: 24 March 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
Genres: young adult, contemporary

Rating: 5 out of 5.


The Torres sisters dream of escape. Escape from their needy and despotic widowed father, and from their San Antonio neighborhood, full of old San Antonio families and all the traditions and expectations that go along with them. In the summer after her senior year of high school, Ana, the oldest sister, falls to her death from her bedroom window. A year later, her three younger sisters, Jessica, Iridian, and Rosa, are still consumed by grief and haunted by their sister’s memory. Their dream of leaving Southtown now seems out of reach. But then strange things start happening around the house: mysterious laughter, mysterious shadows, mysterious writing on the walls. The sisters begin to wonder if Ana really is haunting them, trying to send them a message—and what exactly she’s trying to say.


I received digital copy review from Algonquin Young Readers via Edelweiss+. This does not affect my review in any way; all opinions are my own.

Tigers, Not Daughters is a powerful story that revolves around grief and sisterhood. It’s a tale about three sisters who struggle to survive after their sister’s death; in dealing with their alcoholic widowed father to strange events that happened in their house. Each sisters have their own way to deal with their grief. Meet the Torres sisters; Ana, Iridian, Jessica and Rosa. They long for a freedom, away from their house. They want to go anywhere but San Antonio. They want to runaway and never go back. But Ana’s dead and there’s nothing they can do about it.

The story takes place about a year after Ana’s death and it’s told from each sister’s point of view. Samantha Mabry successfully created a story about grieving for the loss of your loved one; the truth about healing, huge wave emotions the Torres experience, the courage to move on and continue with life. Her writing is lyrical and honest; she didn’t need to sugarcoat the truth about losing your loved one nor romanticizing problematic issues and toxic behaviors we often see and experience when we’re grieving.

It’s not hard to get lost in Mabry’s world. Her story is so atmospheric it feels like you’re in San Antonio watching the sisters go on their day to day basis. She stirred her story from normal life in a small city to supernatural event without feeling like it’s out of place. The essential part of the story remained consistent. It’s still centered around the life of the sisters’ coping mechanism.

Aside from the imaginative writing, other thing that stands out the most book is how the Torres family represents five stages of grief. Grief is a normal reaction to the loss of someone or something. People experience grief differently and the Torres are no exception. According to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there are five stages of grief people may experience; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. So how do they represent the five stages of grief?


After Ana’s death, Jessica started working in local pharmacy and is the only sister who bothers to take care of their father. She is not used to be the oldest daughter—to be the one who needs to look after her sisters at the same time taking care of herself. For Jessica, the way to move from her sister’s death is to shove down her anger and pain. Because Iridian and Rosa depends on Jessica for everything. If there’s something happened, they’d call Jessica. When their dad was hard to handle, they would leave it to Jessica.

And that’s how Jessica Torres breaks.

She is angry at Ana for leaving her with a broken family. She is angry at people who dared to say bad things about Ana. She is angry at the boys accros the street for ruining everything. She is angry at her boyfriend for all the abuse and emotional trainwreck he puts her in. She is angry that her neighborhood knew everything about her miserable life.

Jessica is angry at herself, she just needs a better outlet to let her anger out. So, she coped with her sister’s death by becoming Ana. But, it seems like Jessica is punishing herself rather than coping with her grief.


Despite being the youngest sister, Rosa is the wisest one. Throughout the story, reading Rosa’s perspective is the most painful one for me. Even though she is twelve when Ana died, it seems like Rosa is the one who keeps the sisters together.

She is different from Iridian and Jessica, in a way that I feel like Rosa acts older than her actually age. Whereas the family lost their faith and stop believe in miracle, Rosa still goes to church every Sunday. She still believe that she is connected to the universe. Rosa’s innocence is showed by the way she wants to communicate to animals around the neighborhood. Not talking, communicating. Rosa has the purest heart that makes her the sister’s emotional support.

The way she see things through different, magical lens is actually Rosa’s way to cope with Ana’s death. Rosa may not question things out loud, but her actions scream a big if only statement. Deep down, Rosa is punishing herself by not saving Ana on the night she fell to her death. She should’ve, if only she, she could’ve—all these words are familiar words Rosa heard at the back of her mind.

So, to cope with her grief and guilty feeling, Rosa promises herself to save her sisters. She wanders around the neighborhood looking for a sign, be it from Ana or the universe. Rosa’s connection to animal is another way for her to overcome her guilt. Maybe Rosa couldn’t save Ana, but she could save others around her.

All of the way the Torres family grieve, I think Rosa’s is the healthiest one.


My favorite Torres sister and the one I feel connected the most. Iridian spends her time isolating herself at the house; reading, writing and fighting back her own trauma. She gets Ana’s collection of books and begins writing romance book to finish what her sister started. Iridian is not someone who is good at dealing with her emotion. She may read about it in her favorite books, but it doesn’t make her an expert when it comes to expressing her feelings. Because the only emotions could feel are shame and numbness.

Whereas Jessica has soft spot for their father, Iridian hated him with a burning passion. She doesn’t have a gentle soul like Rosa’s, instead she feels like she is made from nothing and will die as one too. Iridian is always screaming silently and doesn’t know how stop it.

Her isolation is her coping mechanism to protect herself from the worst case scenario that may happen again. Iridian has already suffered from her own trauma, the loss of her sister and dealing with her absent father. Writing a story is a way for her to escape from the ugly reality she has to live.

Although I wish Iridian’s grief is more explained in the story, I like that Samantha Mabry did not romanticizing her depression and isolation. Her grief is not beautiful; it’s ugly, it’s depressing, it’s painful, it’s not quirky. There’s no strong big guy ready to save Iridian, instead her sisters are the one who saved her.

It can be very tricky to write depression in a book and I’m glad Samantha Mabry executed it in a clever way.


And we have my least favorite person; the villain of the story. At first, I’m not sure if Rafe is the bad guy. Maybe villain is not the right word. After all, he lost both his wife and daughter, right? But as the story goes, I understand why the sisters wanted to runaway so bad.

Rafe is still in the denial stage, maybe he hasn’t healed from the loss of his wife. His way to cope with his pain is become an alcoholic, absent father for his daughter. He thought he raised his daughters well, but it was always been Ana who acted as maternal figure for her sisters. He thought he’s the one who loves Ana the most, when in reality his daughters also love her too.

Rafe becomes a toxic father figure for the sisters. He manipulates Jessica so many times that she starts to normalize emotional abuse. He bullies Iridian and brings up her worst nightmare to life. He doesn’t even care that Rosa exists.


The sisters have been tiptoeing around each other after Ana’s death. Jessica works in pharmacy, Iridian spends most of her time at home and Rosa loves to wander around the neighborhood. Even though Jessica and Iridian can act decent when Rosa is around, but they are also having a hard time with each other.

Ana’s ghostly presence once again crack the sisters. Do they immediately think Ana meant well by haunting them? No. It takes times for them to understand Ana’s message and what she wants from them. 

At the end of the day, when the sisters come together and fight their nightmares off, Ana is there to help them. When the sisters overcome their fear and accept their pain, it’s when the sisters comes in a realization that Ana’s gone, but she’s still with them no matter what. The Torres sisters will always be the four of them; Ana, Jessica, Iridian and Rosa.


The characters feel so real because they’re not portrayed as the best people on earth. Samantha Mabry acknowlegded every mistakes her characters made by showing us that this is how human grieve. Grief can be ugly and toxic—and acknowledging them is a way for her young audience that mental illness and grief are not all about pretty quotes or beautiful words. We should normalize having normal characters who are flawed and not always make the best decision.

🍂 What do you think? Are you interested in reading Tigers, Not Daughters?
🍂 What trope should I cover on the next post? Mean girl or strong girl trope?
🍂 Let me know in the comment section below!

5 thoughts on “Tigers, Not Daughters by Samantha Mabry: Five Stages of Grief

  1. Five stages of grief have always been interesting to see because they come in many different forms for everyone. Also, you should make more essays or character studies, if you have the time.

    You’re a literature student? What major?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m actually planning too! I have a lot of ideas on my head right now so let’s pray I have time to write them down 😶😶 and nooo I’m not a lit student but I used to make essays of few Indonesian novels when I was a senior in high school


      1. No way, you got to do that when you’re in high schools? Damn, my teachers didn’t make us do that to Indonesian/English novels in high schools.


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