I judged this book by the cover, two young women with their backs facing me. One, being slightly taller, both wearing rumpled, faded man-tailored shirts. Heads almost touching, hair approximately the same dirty blonde, braided from both heads into one braid, casual, with strands of hair loose. The New York Times Book Review quote: "Rich, intricate and alive with emotion....An honest portrait of sister-love....Brave and forgiving," which I only read because it was on the cover, just below the sisters.
So I was drawn into this paperback world through the cover design by Chin-Yee Lai, which is actually a photograph titled (Girls) by Jenny Lindhe, combined with a very subtle (Sky) by Lonny Kalfus. After several pages of praise for the author, Julia Glass, past the copyright, the acknowledgments, the "This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental." I was not expecting a quote from Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, from "Green Grass":
Don't say goodbye to me
Describe the sky to me
And if the sky falls, mark my words
We'll catch mocking birds
The author jumps right in with a voice and sentiment I could easily relate to, a person who hates reunions and is spending her 25th birthday alone, glazing a porcelain bowl while listening to Ella Fitzgerald, in 1980.
She is referring to family reunions..."all that competition disguised as fellowship." After a mere 3 and 1/2 pages, the voice shifts to her sister's, which initially is so different, blunt, almost mean, that after her 8 and 1/2 page summary of life, laced with numerous jabs regarding her sister, I wanted the story to start, not realizing it already had.
This was how the majority of the book was written, shifting from one sister's viewpoint to the other's, which at certain points blended despite how different each sister tried to be or had chosen to live. If I had a criticism, I would say this confusion of who was speaking would be it, but perhaps I saw too much of myself in both of them. Perhaps the author intended this overlapping, which in reality occurs in siblings, often manifesting itself in fighting, whether verbally, physically, or both.
I could not put this book down, had to actually force myself to take gulps of air in the form of doing laundry, cooking dinner. After I finished the book, I immediately called my younger sister, the one I once was so close to, and in too many years, have felt so estranged. I asked her about her life, and just listened. I told her I hoped she felt complete, happy, whole. I told her I loved her and really meant it. They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in this case it worked out quite well.
This is not a book just for female readers, as there are many important male characters. The author deftly addresses relationship and family issues, as well as self-relection, guilt, and ultimately love and acceptance. This is not a coming-of-age novel, but more of a coming to grips with reality story, which despite the disclaimer seems to have sprung from a very intimate, non-fictional source.
Published in the United States and Canada by Random House, Inc. 2008