Frankissstein: A Love Story by Jeanette Winterson

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The body fails and falls. But the body is not the truth of what we are. The spirit will not return to a ruined house.

Frankenstein re-imagined for our strange times. This novel is a shared narrative between Mary Shelley in 1816 as she gives birth to her creation of Frankenstein and modern day Dr. Shelley (Ry) who is transgender “a start-up (or is it an upstart in my own life)” who works for a cryogenics company attending the Tec-X-Po on Robotics in Memphis, Tennessee. Ry is there to interview Ron Lord (dealer of sex bots) and Ry tells us, “to consider how robots will effect affect our mental and physical health”. Claire is a ‘venue expert’ serving as Ry’s guide, but keep your eye on her, this is the last place you’d expect religion to enter. Soon enough we are sitting beside human scale ‘sex dolls’ while Ron convinces us that it’s a modern convenience, even good for couples because let’s face it folks, women lead busy lives now and men get lonely. It’s disease free, far safer than human beings! Barbie for grown ups! It’s the market of the future! Real, fake, is there a difference in the modern world? But humans as uploads?

The story takes us back into the past with Mary Shelley, where it’s far more interesting wondering about the mystery of life with Percy, Lord Byron and his physician Polidori, and mistress Claire (Mary’s step-sister). Here, another creature is given birth to, old world style when Mary pens Frankenstein. Somehow Frankenstein’s monster is less threatening, terrifying to my way of thinking than AI and the high functioning madness of Professor Victor Stein, who declares to all that, “The future is not biology it’s AI.” Just what is his terrifying, freakish theory of evolution? What sort of imagined future has him on a mission? Who better to discuss body parts than Ry, who is fully female, partly male whose love, emotions aren’t defined by either or? Of course Ry falls under Victor’s spell, a love story is born. What is the substance we love? Is it in the soul, the mind, the body? How do we define love? Hell, at this point, how do we define madness, science, religion? Love is it’s own sort of madness, monster, no?  How much can Ry’s love for Victor overlook the horror of his designs? This is modern Frankenstein, where there doesn’t have to be death for humans, where the mind can live forever, become it’s technology.

At times it is incredibly thought provoking, “What is your substance”, are we body, are we soul? What are we, exactly? Is our humanity tied into our souls? Our physical parts? What if modern medicine keeps us alive, with parts that are man-made? Better yet, what if the brain could evolve elsewhere, body no longer needed? Are we no longer human? What if we were only a brain, and everything else was replaced, are we then monsters? What is AI exactly? Could we at some point, were we downloaded, be AI ourselves?

Well what did I just read? I just wanted to remain in Mary Shelley’s world, because there was the writing I loved. I think the future is too bleak for me with Professor Stein. It is meaningful in understanding Ry’s self-creation, but it really went off the rails the further I read. I am not a huge Sci/Fi fan, what kept me reading was Mary Shelley’s intelligence, very much alive in a time where women were meant to be quiet. Quiet like her step-sister who ‘has nothing to say’ beyond what her body does, a woman who ‘sleeps with anybody”. Mary, adamant that the male principle isn’t better than the female nor more active just not subjugated as women are! The men simply ‘indulging her’ and therefore underestimating her. The imaginings of Mary are the beauty of the novel, the heartache too. She knew quite a bit about death, never knowing her own mother who died from birthing complications. She herself suffered miscarriage, death of her living children, so it gives rise to many questions about where the soul goes. Maybe the book began as a game, a challenge, but here I could imagine her writing a catharsis for what plagued her heart.

I have such a hard time reviewing this story because it is bizarre but it had me thinking about the monsters we create, about science, religion, love, our bodies, how we see ourselves and each other. What sex means, how we identify, and the many ways we deny others ownership of their emotions, state of being. One thing I kept thinking, whether the monsters are in the past or modern technology, somehow women always seem to be abused or denigrated. It seems to be one constant. Such a hard novel to categorize.

Publication Date: October 1, 2019

Grove Atlantic

Grove Press

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The Sisters of Summit Avenue: A Novel by Lynn Cullen

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Her whole life, June had quietly taken whatever knocks had come her way.

Sisters and their rivalries, the imagined and real inequalities of a parent’s love and attention, how it bleeds out upon the world, infects the future. This is a novel about how we often make life choices based on the trauma of our past, and how sibling issues can alter the course of our lives. Ruth has always felt her life has been lived in the shadow of June’s radiant beauty. Everywhere she goes, people are under the spell of it. Luck seems to ooze from her very blessed pores. Of course the natural flow of her life has made her wildly successful, working as one of “the Betty’s” conjuring creative recipes in the famous Betty Crocker test kitchens that other wives, mothers are dying to emulate. Ruth? Ruth is trapped running her family’s farm in Indiana, while her beloved husband is trapped in his body, with the mysterious ailment “the sleeping sickness”. Encephalitis lethargica was a widespread, mysterious, bizarre ailment that left a devastating number of people dead or institutionalized as they were left in a sleep like state. (Some of you may recall the movie Awakenings starring the late, great Robin Williams and Robert Deniro whose character’s symptoms present much the same as John, based on Oliver Sacks non-fiction book about patients who contacted encephalitis lethargica). This is a serious disease not even fully understood today. It is grave indeed, and Ruth is conflicted between resentment and pity.

Ruth must deal with this devastating illness that has stolen her strong husband, leaving in his stead a mostly unconscious (or is he aware still of his surroundings) man. It is on her to raise their girls, varying in ages, to keep their farm going, no mean feat! Her mother is by her side, mostly tending to John while Ruth handles the backbreaking work, becoming more and more bitter with the passing of each day. Why must she always be the one that awful things always seems to befall? Every time she has a chance at happiness, things sour and it’s made all the worse having to witness her sister always rising like cream above the drudgery of life. If God has favorites, certainly it is June, always June and never Ruth. Why, even her own husband, before the illness still longed for the golden beauty! She just knows it. It must be hard to feel like you were made up of leftovers, as if your sibling is meant for great things because of their beauty while you have to fight for every crumb of affection you can rake out of this hungry world. But things are never what they seem.

June’s always garnered attention, unwanted as much as welcome, and while many things in life appear to come easy for her, it is the very things she desires most, the very ones that give life meaning that elude her. She has never understood the bitter heart that beats in her sister Ruth’s chest, why she seems to always want what she has, why she has laid claim to the one man she loved so much. But all of that is in the past, right now she has a career, one that serves as a creative outlet and makes her very popular and while her marriage to Richard, a successful, wealthy doctor seems enviable, there lurks shame within their marriage, things that she has been told she cannot provide for him, things a woman should be able to do. How she would love children, like Ruth has.

Maybe this visit to Ruth and John’s will be a bridge reconnecting the sisters, even if she is conflicted about seeing John in his frozen state. Her heart still has wounds, there was never closure. She would never betray Ruth, she feels pity for her, for everything Ruth must bear on her shoulders, but the past is still a fresh ache. If only she had someone to confide her own sorrows in.

Everyone seems to be harboring secrets and heaping piles of guilt, Ruth with her hired help, June and Richard with what they tell each other and hide, longings that have stewed in John’s sleeping heart, and their mother Dorothy. Dorothy whose own dark past as daughter of the hired help in a wealthy home is the seed to the ruinous relationship between her girls. John’s bizarre illness and the way disabled children, adults were treated ‘back in the day’ give the novel a bit of heft and keeps it from being just another tale about sibling dynamics. Too, the mention of hard times, people at the end of their rope trying to survive and giving up. Ruth is bitter, but not everyone can be an upbeat, gracious Pollyanna when they have spent their life feeling inferior. Maybe their mother is a bit guilty of the imbalance in the sister’s relationship, and maybe her reasons make sense, but you know what people fail to realize, perception is what drives us. We are often shaped by the reactions of our first society, our own parents, and it’s there in the looks Ruth gets from her own, especially when she is John’s chosen. Ruth is hard to take, she is so used to losing that it’s hard for her to see that she has so much love. Her children adore her, and even June still loves her. But her fault has always been in romance, you cannot force the hand of love, and you cannot make people want you more by trying to muddy or take from another. Not the right people anyway.

It is a lesson in self-sabotage and maybe even pride, because as awful as everyone will likely feel Ruth is, June sure as hell doesn’t fight much for what she wants either. The ending threw me, when the past comes knocking at the door, it happened too fast. I think I was expecting more of a fight when a certain character wants to stake his claim in the family, so to speak. It’s never that simple. I expected a meatier ending, but it’s a good read all the same, even if all the characters wore my patience! Half the time you want to say, grow up, speak up, just stop this nonsense. My god but we get in our own way, don’t we?

Publication Date: September 10, 2019

Gallery, Pocket Books

The Doll Factory: A Novel by Elizabeth Macneal

 

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Her eyes, sockets slightly hollowed, contained a loneliness and longing that felt at once familiar. It was as if an invisible cord united them.

Iris Whittle wants freedom, not to endure her sister Rose’s jealousy ‘until, at last, some scrawny boy fattens her with child after child’, slaving over laundry, cooking ‘rotten offal’ and  tending infants ‘mewling with scarlatina and influenza and God knows what else’. Iris and her twin sister Rose apprenticed at Mrs. Salter’s Doll Emporium, spends her day painting the delicate dolls faces, a ‘drudgery’- a dark skill at times painting custom dolls  from daguerreotypes of children, who may or may not be dead, ‘commemorative dolls’. She wants a way out of her life, but with a sick twin sister who relies on her, is marriage the only way? Youth and beauty is currency, but her passion is art, sketching since she was a child.

As The Great Exhibition “of the works of industry of all nations” is to be held in the Crystal Palace now being built in Hyde Park, London- it’s promise is calling out to Iris. It is a world for artists like herself  and what is more thrilling to someone whose life is nothing but toil, feeling like slavery? Then there is Silas and his specimens of the dead, his taxidermy shop, with aspirations for a museum, where he can share his world with the masses. If he could perfect preservation, freeze moments in time, rid the stench and rot of death…if only he could have better specimens, a thing so marvelous that others would be mesmerized, why then he would be someone! It’s never enough, these paltry commissions, not for a man of his ambitions! The average man has no idea the skill, the genius his creations require, no. It takes a discerning eye to appreciate the beauty, the art! These specimens are about life! Why do others only see the macabre?  At least he has ‘street brat’ Albie to scavenge for curiosities! It’s nothing for Albie using a hemp sack as his “Dead Creatures bag”, anything to make a shilling, a boy has gotta survive these mean London streets, even if you peddle death.

The 1850’s London our characters are living in is a far cry from the upper crust Victorian delicacy we think of- the fashion, the fine sensibilities, in The Doll Factory we have an atmospheric England with it’s more offensive smells and underbelly, the dark side of all those gentleman and their baser urges. Albie and others of his ilk turn to crime with limited choices, either pickpockets or prostitutes- their brutal worlds, never dreaming of the sheltered lives of children born to finer families. This is the darkest part of the novel, thinking of children up to their eyes in filth and the scum of the times. We love to look away from the ugly reality of the past, it’s hard to stomach, imagine living it. I’m the type watching Pride and Prejudice and thinking ‘wow, I wonder how awful the lives of the people serving the main characters were’, thinking ‘oh yeah, my luck I’d be the peasant, no time to pine after Darcy’. Not that I don’t love Jane Austen, I just think Victorian Times were more about the spread of infectious diseases like smallpox…syphilis… consumption- ah the past.

Back to the novel… it is through Albie that Silas has a most fortunate encounter with the beautiful Iris, honing in on an unusual part of her, awakening his obsession. Fate for some can be a dark shadow hovering, waiting for fulfillment. For Iris, it is her meeting with Lois Frost that is full of meaning, part of the PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), a man who trained at the Royal Academy and feels she would be the perfect model for him. A boon, he will pay her too! She sees this fine bit of luck as the the opportunity to learn how to paint under his tutelage, if he agrees it will seal the deal, her reservations be damned. There are more brave choices for her to make, sacrifices to earn that precious freedom to live as she wants, it could cost her not just her reputation but her family- but she can taste that other life, it’s so close. The threat of ruin isn’t enough to force her to change her course!

There is a thin veil between the present day and dreams for Silas as Iris has been sewn into the very fabric of his future. She longs to be Lois’s treasure, not imagining that she is already one man’s curiosity, the means to fulfillment- who says his visions are mad? Silas is biding his time, losing his grip on reality as each day ticks by. He wants to be taken seriously, he knows in time the world will see him as successful, fine gentleman! One day his work will pay off, then everyone who ever insulted him will be sorry. He is a man struggling with his obsessive desire, disgusted by others vices, while obsessing over Iris, watching, learning everything about her, more familiar with her habits than she herself is. The watching, lurking, waiting- this is how some men are forced to commune, to touch what they desire.

Obsession is shackles of the mind, much like ones used to keep someone in captivity. Silas is a tormented man, one who doesn’t take rejection lightly. She must she let him love her! He just needs her to accept his loyal friendship. She will be that someone who understands, accepts his world, his passion.

Everything is spiraling but that invisible cord, it connects them and everyone who stands between them.

Yes, read it if you enjoy dark historical fiction, and the underbelly of Victorian London. There is a stink of death clinging to the pages, the mad desperation of the lonely and the deception of our own minds.

Publication Date: August 13, 2019

Atria Books

 

 

 

 

The Porpoise: A Novel by Mark Haddon

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She never fights, never complains. She allows these things to happen, and the gap between acceptance and encouragement is a very narrow one. The longer it goes on the more she feels like an accomplice. 

The novel begins with tragedy, when Philippe’s pregnant wife dies in a plane crash, the baby miraculously survives. Growing up, she is denied nothing but her father is a sun that will consume and burn her with his attentions, his warped love. He justifies his abuses, and Angelica doesn’t know enough of the world, sheltered by her father, to know any better… until Darius.  “she knows little of the world and it is often hard to recognize stories when you find yourself inside them”, it is her dream that Darius will take her away, drunk on his attention she will find a way to confide in him. But they have underestimated daddy’s jealousy and rage. She finds other ways to escape, into silence, refusal, disengaging.

The story transitions and Darius is on the run, Philippe is a wealthy, powerful man whose reach is far. He takes to the sea upon The Porpoise accompanied by his friends Helena, Marlena and Anton while avoiding those who would kill him, not much of the hero Angelica needed. There is something strange afoot, lulled to sleep when they wake the ship has changed drastically and there is a strange, dangerous tattooed man abroad. They are no longer in their world, their time. In this Shakespearean tale based on Pericles, we are crashing into the mythology, but then flash back to Angelica and she is reading the very tale that his life has morphed into. Is this all her fantasy? Honestly, I am not sure. Is that meant to be the thread?

Now we are with Pericles/Darius, and it can be a challenge because I was immersed in the present, disgusted by Philippe, hopeful that Angelica would escape and not into silence nor through denying herself sustenance. It is the only revolt she has, for now. Shakespeare enters the novel too, and we ponder if  it was he who ‘turned Appolinus into Pericles’  or was it George Wilkins? Let’s focus on terrible George, by the way, and how he treats women. George, the debauched man, frequenter of brothels, who will soon be dead and have to face quite a surprise in the afterlife. “for years everything has been traveling steadily towards this terrible moment”, and how just! I enjoyed this part of the novel immensely.

It was difficult at first to dig into Pericles as he arrives in Tarsus at first, but it began to flow even if sometimes the jumping through stories and time had me lost. I had to avoid interruptions while reading to keep everything straight. It is adventurous, there is mutiny, rescues, a princess fished out of the sea, births, deaths and women suffering.  It is a dark novel, because it begins with rape, no matter how you try to define it. I don’t see her as an accomplice, not at all. Angelica’s insight is vital, the dawning of how wrong what her father does to her is told in her hunger to leave with Darius, her absenting her own body too.  I still feel I lost Angelica’s story, even though I can make loose connections throughout Pericles’s tale, still I wanted to focus more on her. This is a unique book, even if I felt as if I was slipped something while reading a modern tale that suddenly changed.

Out now

Doubleday Books

The World That We Knew: A Novel by Alice Hoffman

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She would do whatever she must to save those she loved, whether it was right or wrong, permitted or forbidden.

Said to be a book about good and evil, it encompasses all that humanity is. In a safe world where we don’t have to face choices between life and death, nor chose to side with those that evil has trained their eyes on it’s easy to imagine yourself as a hero. Reality is a multifaceted beast though, if we’ve learned nothing from history, good and evil can live inside all of us. Every choice is the difference between cowardice and bravery, but for a mother she wouldn’t blink at damning herself to save her child. There is a line in the novel that says “A wolf will seldom attack, Bobeshi always said, only when it is wounded or starving. Only when it must survive.”  People however, are different creatures entirely.

Berlin in 1941 Hanni Kahn, with the help of a rabbi’s daughter Ettie, will conjure a golem to protect her beloved daughter Lea. The golem will remain beside her, guide her in escaping the Nazis. Ava is brought into existence, meant to remain by Lea’s side with no thought of her own being, always to protect her as fiercely as her own mother would. The two leave for a convent in France, Lea will never see her mother again and the world that they knew will be forever changed. It is a tale of magical realism during a time when evil was spreading throughout the world.

The rabbi’s wife knows it is the men of the Jewish tradition who can give Hanni what she wants if it is even possible, it is not for the women to dabble in such things, for it takes educated scholars, women are only for bringing babies into the world. With the rabbi’s wife dismissing her, it is the rabbi’s progressive, intelligent daughter Etti who will help Hanni but for a trade, for she too has a plan of her own as desperate for escape as anyone. A plan that includes her sister, jewels and tickets on a train to Paris.

All Lea knows is this strong, tall woman named Ava is her cousin and will be her companion on her journey to safety. A cousin she has never heard of until today. She will no longer be Jewish, in order to survive she must become Lillie Perrin. She is to be the link in her family’s future generations, if there are to be any, she must survive. She must say goodbye, for if she lives on so too will her mother, and her mother before her. Setting her child free is sometimes the most terrible choice, the only choice, and the greatest gift of love any mother can give. But this ‘cousin’ behaves strangely, and has an odd encounter with Ettie and her sister Marta, who have also boarded the train. Surely something is afoot, Lea knows there is more to this ‘cousin’ Ava than her mother let on. How can Lea not resent Ava, whom she doesn’t even really know, when it is her mother and grandmother she longs to be with, not this strange ‘cousin’ who acts like a guard dog. Her heart is breaking inside, she never wanted to leave her mother behind, never! But her mother had to remain surrounded by all the demons and care for her invalid grandmother, Bobeshi as their world grows smaller and smaller. Lea will keep the memory close to her heart of their last dinner together, and the beautiful gift (given to Lea early by her mother Hanni) meant for her thirteenth birthday, a day that they will never share. Lea must promise to obey her mother, no matter how much her heart breaks at their final goodbye. Obeisance comes in the form of keeping close to Ava.

Something horrific happens on that train, that Lea and Ava witness. Ettie and Marta walk among demons themselves, and Ettie will swallow her sorrow on the run and become many things, to survive. Working her way through the countryside of France, forsaking her orthodox Jewish traditions, waiting to know her fate, whatever it may be, with unflinching bravery. She bides her time working where she can until the time comes to rise, to fight. She must be as strong as the golem she brought to life.

Lea and Ava seek sanctuary with André Lévi , a dangerous thing for the Lévi family to take  more strangers in with the Germans coming after Jews in the streets of Paris. What is there to do? They cannot turn away these distant cousins. Lea and their son Julien fall in love, much to the dismay of Julien’s mother and always under the watchful eye of Ava. With his elder brother Victor’s disappearance in the night, he is the only son left. Sadly, this is no longer a world made for young love and family loyalty is above all what sons and daughters must first cling to, Lea herself has to understand that. Lea and Ava must journey to the convent if they are to remain alive, there she gives offerings of bread and milk to a heron, comes to the heron with requests. The heron is a symbol of hope and messenger of love. Can her love for Julien survive in a world full of hate and violence?

In another village Marianne and her father have always done what is right and saved those in need of rescue. She comes in contact with an old friend whom she had lived with in a Paris house for five years, and he informs her that he has joined up with a group of Jewish resistors and has been living in the forest. Their story will burn again, now that they are together but the blows will still come. Evil will win, but so too will good, it is a never ending struggle on this scorched earth.

Magic can save some of us, but not without a price. For there is always a sacrifice. “You cannot hide who you are without doing great damage,” but there is no other choice than to bury oneself. By the end there will be so much lost, bones in a field, tests of faith, love lost and found and lost again, so many wounded souls in need of healing and new beginnings. Will a mother’s love and the creation of a golem lead to the survival of Lea and future generations? You must read to find out.

Alice Hoffman’s tales always have a mystical touch that so many fans love, and this is magical realism but without the usual lightness because it a story of such an ugly time in human history. It starts with the purest act of love, a mother wanting to save her beloved daughter. What love is greater? Tell me? Than a mother’s love for her child? There will be loss, evil actions and more hate than we can swallow, history is it’s own horror story. Destiny will have its way with every character here within, and not everyone will survive to the end but it’s their burning hearts, their fight that makes this a beautiful read.

Now we wait until Alice Hoffman’s next novel, with hearts full of hope after such an emotional read.

Publication Date: September 24, 2019

Simon & Schuster

Summerlings: A Novel by Lisa Howorth

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We existed in a smaller world of our own daunting challenges, peopled with gods and monsters. Sometimes they were the same.

It is the summer of 1959 and there is a plague of spiders on the streets of Washington DC, an exciting occurrence for John and his friends. Living with his grandparents he is part of a family of oddball Washington natives on his mother’s side, of course he knows nothing of his father’s family since his parents divorced when he was five. His grandfather John, but called Brickie, swears his daddy is allergic to work, lazy. It is true his father was spoiled, but his mother needed so much attention. Both good looking and wild, their marriage ended and John’s mother contracted tuberculosis, so they say, and for two years now that’s where she is still at the sanatorium, St. Elizabeth’s. Children of divorce an anomaly in the 1950’s could make for a lonely life, his sister Liz is away at camp, but John has his buddies Ivan, Max and girl pal Beatriz.

This was a period of time after World War II when your neighbors all knew each other and anyone foreign was suspect. The Russians were still enemies to the American way of thinking and any strange occurrence could well be a part of their schemes. Even grandpa Brickie thinks the Russians are behind the spiders! Spending their lazy days of summer concocting a plan to catch poisonous bugs to defend themselves against their bully, nemesis Slutcheon -leads the children into a far bigger story, one that may make them criminals.

Then there is the beautiful Elena, Ivan’s aunt, whose presence does strange things to John. Enlisting the beauty to help them hatch the “Beaver Plan”, a neighborhood party, something to help everyone be nicer to each other is perfect, when she has the time and isn’t busy going out with different men. “Air-conditioning and privacy were luxuries few people had in those days”, everyone knows Elena’s business, there are no secrets in these sort of neighborhoods, not for a party girl who hangs out with ‘Commies’ and comes home far too late in the night. There could be Russian spies everywhere, and even a school mate with a gorgeous aunt could be one. She spends too much time helping refugees, and then there is the mysterious Cuban on the motorbike.

The children play war with cherry bombs, drive the adults crazy in each other’s yards, bicycle through the streets, swim in a play pool until it gets dirty wondering if it could give them polio, that dreaded disease instilling fear in the hearts of children of the 50’s and flirt on the edge of adulthood. The boys don’t fully understand the fights between Elena and Josef, why her ‘refugee friends’ embarrass him so nor Ivan’s rage at his father. Nor does John comprehend why his mother is suing his own father. The adults world is one of confusion, conflicting information like the war, and spies… everyone spies, everyone! Heck, on their own street they all spy on each other and suspect them! Why is it wrong for one country but not another, and why do all the adults always say ‘you’ll understand when you’re older’ about all the complicated questions? And will Dimma (his grandmother) really give him an enema? A dreaded enema? Just what role is a vinegaroon going to have in this story? In fact, what IS a vinegaroon anyway?

A heist the children plan, special tropical punch, a party where everyone drops their guard and a tragic turn of events come morning changes everything causing an abrupt end to the summer and their innocence. The world keeps turning, people move on but memories remain. A story of innocence before the dawning of adulthood. By far the cutest book cover!

Publication Date: August 6, 2019

Doubleday Books

Mrs. Everything: A Novel by Jennifer Weiner

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“This life,” Cal said. “You have to give up a lot, I have family who won’t see me. It’s hard. It’s not for everyone.”

In the beginning, it is older sister  Jo “tall and gangly and everything she did was wrong” and little sister Bethie ” chubbie and cute” a child who “always said exactly the right thing” that complete the makeup of the Kaufman family.  Where Jo is closer to her father, Bethie is Mommie’s perfect darling, a child who doesn’t behave in the unnatural manner her older ‘tom boy’ sister Jo does. It is 1950’s Detroit and their new home is surrounded by families just like them, “birds of a feather” all perfectly flocking together in rhythm and God forbid you are “different.” No one tests their mother more than Josette, who doesn’t mean to be so difficult and really cannot explain why things that come easy to others is so hard for her. She can’t help but be herself, even when she tries to be the good girl her mother desires, catastrophe follows and boy does her mother make sure she knows just how much she fails to be the daughter she wants.

It isn’t only within her family that her nature brushes against societal norms. Friendships with other girls mean more than they should, her wants and desires for her future are thwarted by the times Jo lives in, and will chip away at her dreams of freedom. An athlete, a writer, liberal minded coming of age in a conservative world will whip her into an acceptable shape. Through betrayal of those she loves most, and of course responsibility to her little sister and impossible to please mother, Jo (like countless women before her) will forget herself in order to fit in. Marriage, children… she is finally a good girl, right? The world isn’t ready to accept a woman like her, to let her live freely. It’s not safe to be her true self.

Bethie’s beauty should make her world a tasty confection and guarantee her most fevered dreams come true. Her mother knows she’s meant to be something special one day!  A girl who everyone loves immediately, the perfect lil’ helper, people pleaser, someone whose very nature charms everyone in her orbit, why… what could possibly derail her future? Sometimes, a girl with so much appeal attracts nothing but danger, through no fault of her own. Bethie learns nothing stays sweet in an ugly world, and before long becomes the subversive daughter that Jo once was, refusing to settle in one place nor with a man. There is so much to taste in the forbidden elsewhere! If Josette wants to spend her life being content, tied to convention… well bully for her. No one is going to tame Bethie. Let Jo pretend!

This is a book about women, their options, the opportunities and lack thereof. The shaming when a daughter, mother, sister dares to look beyond the plans other’s have made for her. The disapproval she will encounter when she strikes out on her own, against the will of her mother/father or husband. The ever looming threat of losing your family if you chose anything for yourself that isn’t ‘approved’. The lessening that is expected when one becomes a wife, mother. Before long, you’ve lost yourself. Too it is about the abuse that girls welcome (according to the world, at least) or have to accept for the sake of survival.

The sisters who once had to support each other drift apart, each denying themselves their true natures. Life happens, it brutalizes and punishes in unequal measure. From an early loss both find themselves sacrificing their dreams and even innocence. It is a story about sisterhood, motherhood and in a sense, self-hood and how every choice or the transgressions of others, and the demands the world puts on us makes us who we are, for better or worse. The question is, can we come back to the self we once buried in order to be accepted?

What is more heartbreaking than thinking about the deaths we suffer, internally, of our many selves? The times Josette and Bethie came of age in were full of strife and civil unrest. Children who questioned their parents ways, be it a mild irritation such as why the fuss of dressing like some cookie cutter family, or the heavy, senseless, shameful weight of their parents racism weren’t exactly the ideal child. Children didn’t question the ways of the adult world, period. Step out of line, and you will be tarred and feathered. You were not free to love where you wanted, with so many constraints, this is why free love (social, sexual movement) was born. Many people bucked convention. Yet children eventually want to please, to have their mother/father’s love, sadly at the expense of their real selves. Other little boys and girls, they get too much unwanted love from some adults. It’s hard to write about this novel without giving away everything that happens, but it truly is a novel full of heartbreak and hope. When it’s your turn to be a parent, despite promising yourself you will do better than your mother/father, you can bet a child will introduce you to your weaker self. Life happens, and comes full circle and at heart it is a tale of two sisters that find their way back to each other.

Publication Date: June 11, 2019  Out Tomorrow!

Atria Books