Burgs Sunday book review
Reviewed by Alison Armstrong. She is the collection management librarian at Radford University.
Trust. Faith in someone’s intentions. Unlike most books I read, I hadn’t heard of “The Sisters” before I picked it up. Usually, I know the author or have heard of the book. However, this debut novel by Nancy Jensen had a cover that appealed to me, a broken tea cup, and I was intrigued by the story inside the flap about two sisters living in Kentucky in the early 1900′s. Jensen has a good start as a writer. She has published stories and essays, has been awarded an Artist Enrichment Grant and an Al Smith Fellowship and teaches English at Eastern Kentucky University.
Jensen’s writing style in The Sisters is interesting. Each chapter is one woman’s perspective. It follows multiple generations of the East family, so the chapters have multi-year gaps. Jensen does a beautiful job providing enough information to subtlety keep the reader caught up with what has happened in the interim without being a mere summary. This technique was very well done and I only had a little trouble remembering the family tree. But, Jensen has the reader covered, right before the first chapter; she has mapped out the family tree. So really, the only trick is to remember it is there as a reference.
The story begins with the two sisters, Bertie and Mabel, as Bertie is getting ready for her eighth grade graduation. Mabel and Bertie’s boyfriend, Wallace, make a life altering decision together and, throughout the book, the author maps the way one event can shape the future.
Well intentions meant to bring the family close, and protect Bertie from an abusive step-father, leaves the family torn apart. The trust Bertie and Mabel have in one another is so easily destroyed as Bertie looses faith in her sister and boyfriend and misinterprets their good intentions. It is interesting, the power that doubt can have as well as just how long the pain of betrayal, even just perceived betrayal, can last.
What follows are two women who grow up, become mothers and then grandmothers in a female rich family, creating multiple generations of women, each with their own distinct personality. Their lives unfold, but through it, the reader holds on to hope. Hope that things can be repaired, amends can be made, events explained. Faith is also there. You have faith that things could change, and that the sisters could re-connect. The possibility of that reunion and how that might play out is for the reader to experience and enjoy.
“The Sisters” is about the lives of family members and is honest in the situations and emotions. Things are rough, things are hard, and sometimes things are misunderstood. Always, things are complicated. Jensen’s story rings true to real life and it stays with you. It makes you think about trust, faith in others, the bonds of family and the need for effective communication.
While “The Sisters” is not a feel-good, happy story, the story Jensen tells is just that, a story. One to get wrapped up in and it makes for a wonderful read.
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