Counting on Family

Book Review of Sisters One, Two, Three” by Nancy Star.

Ginger’s 13th year was as unlucky as the number. Many years after that tragic summer, it seems no one has been able to fix anything broken back then. Furthermore, there’s her deteriorating relationship with her daughter Julia, and her mother Glory is no less strange now, than she was back then. This book, written in parallel timelines, is a story about secrets, hiding things and what should to let go of vs. what to hold close.

dd146-sisters2b12b22b3As noted above, Star tells this story through parallel timelines, at least for the most part. One line follows Ginger today, with her daughter and husband and relationship with her sister Mimi and her brood. The other follows Ginger’s 13th summer, the one that changed the Tangle family forever while vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard. However, around two thirds of the way through the book, the flashback narrative ends, and the rest of the book focuses on only the present. Of course, part of the reason for this is to learn as much about that tragic summer as possible, together with some of the aftermath. The fact is, from quite early on in this book we realize that Star’s early timeline is there to reveal the terrible event in this family’s past. We also can easily guess what happened. On the one hand, this type of plot development builds up the suspense very nicely, and there are essential elements about Ginger’s 13th summer that are vitally important to the story.

More importantly, these sections also help us better understand Ginger’s relationship with her parents and siblings. However, I think Star drew these sections out just a bit too long for my taste. To be honest, one point I started to feel a bit frustrated and somewhat impatient for Star to get on with the “action.” I also felt that this slightly diminished the dramatic impact of the event. In other words, I think if Star had finished the dual narratives by about half way through the book, it might have felt a bit stronger.

Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoyed this novel. To begin with, Star’s style is very open and frank with a good smattering of humor, of the kind where you’ll find yourself grinning. Star also doesn’t mess around with overt descriptions of scenery, although you’ll certainly get pictures in your head of places like the Vineyard and the beaches. With this, most of the focus of Star’s story is on what the characters are feeling as they pass through those places, which further helps develop the atmosphere. Most impressive was how Star developed Ginger to perfection, who is the outstanding protagonist here, and this book really is her story. Star also does a marvelous job with developing Ginger’s mother Glory. Star carefully shows the tensions between mother and daughter, particularly where there are secrets between them, paralleled in Ginger’s own relationship with her daughter Julia. Together with the other minor characters, we get interplay of relationships, clouded by deceptions that enhance all of Star’s situations.

As noted above, as soon as Star finished telling us about the fateful events of Ginger’s 13th summer, and its immediate aftermath, this story really took flight. With only the present day events, the story unfolds with increasing tension, straight through to a marvelous twist in the story that you’ll never guess is coming from anything that preceded it. From there, Star takes us to a quick conclusion that leaves us with just enough information to make us believe that the whole family has taken a turn towards improving their relationships with each other as well as in their own separate lives. I would even go so far as to say it was gripping, with enough of an emotional bang to make me cry (in a good way). For all of this, I can highly recommend this book and give it a strong four and a half stars out of five. (Warning: Although I would never call this “chic-lit,” I do have a gut feeling that this book will appeal more to women than it will to men. Not that there aren’t plenty of men out there who will enjoy this book, but my feeling is that this will be a bigger hit with female audiences. Is that sexists of me?)


“Sisters One, Two, Three” by Nancy Star, published by Lake Union Press, released January 1, 2017 is available (via these affiliate links) from Amazon US, Amazon UK, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

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