Odd & True by Cat Winters. ★★★1/2
I came into Odd & True expecting a fantasy story, but what I got was mostly historical fiction instead. Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s a fairly good book, but I probably wasn’t the right reader for it.
When Trudchen was little, her older sister Odette told her stories about how their family was magical. Their mother was a monster slayer, their uncle was a magician, and the sisters are destined to follow in their mother’s footsteps. But when Odd reappears after two years, she still seems to believe these stories, and Tru worries that she hasn’t grown out of their childhood dreams. Odd tells Tru that as Tru’s now fifteen, she’ll start attracting the attention of monsters, and that Tru needs to come with Odd for her own safety. Although she worries her disability (a shriveled leg from childhood polio) will make travel difficult, Tru decides that Odd needs her. As the two girls cross America, Tru begins to believe Odd’s claims of monsters and magic, and Odd’s mysterious two-year absence is slowly unveiled.
The book switches back and forth between two narrative strands. One is Tru’s perspective on the current day. The other is a series of flashbacks from Odd’s perspective, starting all the way back with Tru’s birth. Odd’s stories show the reality of the sisters’ lives, and its not a pretty one. It becomes clear that Odd felt the need to embellish their story to make it bearable. But does she believe the stories she tells? And is Tru growing past her skepticism?
As I mentioned earlier, if you’re looking for a straight up fantasy story about girls who slay monsters, that isn’t really Odd & True. This is one of those stories where it keeps you guessing: are there actually monsters? Or… is the true monster the patriarchy?
Odd & True is a feminist story, addressing the sexist inequities of the early 20th century (some of which still persist today…). A lot of this comes in through Odd’s flashbacks, which often highlight the particular vulnerabilities of low and working class women. However, feminist themes can be found in Tru’s sections as well, since people tend to immediately assume that the two girls can’t possibly be monster hunters. In Tru’s case, they also make assumptions about what she’s capable of because she’s disabled. One of the things I appreciated about Odd & True was Tru finding her own strength and confidence, and how she was able to share some of that confidence with other disabled girls.
While Odd & True wasn’t what I expected, I did enjoy the ride.