But what family isn't, really? at least in some way or another.
This story left me feeling a bit depressed throughout it but at the same time, it left me feeling so thankful for the way I grew up, and for my own parenting skills, which in my humble opinion, are pretty good, based on fruit I see anyways, and feedback from others.
This story centers around the themes of family secrets, betrayals, domestic violence/abuse, forgiveness, love, cancer, teen suicide, broken families, restored relationships.
It is full of drama but the plot was like sloshing through mud....it took forever to get to the main secret (even though I had already guessed it based on context).
Julia, the eldest of 3 sisters, and her son Eli are back at her childhood home for Christmas. And for her father's funeral. Her 2nd husband Tai is back home in Kansas City working on a research project. They will do Christmas apart. Julia is struggling with the fact that she found some pills that Eli says he was going to take to kill himself. He feels unloved and unwanted. His biological father, Dusty, is remarried and never really seems to have time for him anymore than Julia has for him. She is all wrapped up in her career of teaching college students.
Maya, the middle sister, is also home for the holidays for the first time in years. Her husband Bradley is with her and their 2 young children, Molly and Will. Maya is the sister who always has to portray her self as "perfect". Maya is secretly dealing with breast cancer and no one in her family knows other than Bradley. She has also held onto a grudge against her youngest sister Claire whom she accused of having an affair with Bradley, when they were first married, 10 years ago. In fact, none of the girls have been back to their Missouri childhood home/farm in 10 years. Maya has never known the truth about the relationship between Claire and Bradley.....but it was NOT an affair. Just what was going on with Claire and Bradley??
Claire, the youngest, has always been the "free spirit" and has always been the one who is the bravest, yet most closed off emotionally. She left Missouri when she was just 18 years old because she refused to take any more abuse (physical and emotional) from her father. She ran away to California to make a new life for herself. And has been very lonely. However, she also has a "secret". She has a man who loves her and wants to marry her. Yet, she has never had a good role model for marriage or any kind of strong relationship. Should she marry Michael, the ER doc she has been dating for about a year??
Elise, the sisters' mother, is relieved that Robert is dead. She was married to him for 47 years and only the first couple of years was marital bliss. He turned out to be an abusive, mean, drunk man. She put up with him for all these years and never tried to get the girls...her precious daughters...away from their father. Why did she stay with him?? and what really happened the night he died??
Everyone is now back on the childhood farm and Elise just wants the girls to have the "perfect Christmas". They will have the funeral for Robert on December 27 and during this week, the entire family is under one roof. Emotions spill and drama unfolds. Old conflicts come to the surface and secrets emerge. The very definition of family is tested. All of the sisters will need to answer a simple question: once you're a sister, aren't you a sister forever??
I liked the premise for this book. I did. But in the reading of the words and plot, it was just too depressing for me. I didn't like the overuse of bad language nor the cigarette smoking. It was downright seedy. Yet, I get why the author did this......it was so much a way of life for the characters.
I felt like the themes were deep yet the way they were approached took forever. It took a long time to get to the main point of the story. Each character had a turn in "telling " her backstory but it seemed to get dragged out and bogged down.
The best parts of the book were when I was reading in Eli's voice. There were whole chapters devoted to him (the teenager) and his words were done in italics. His character was sort of like a mirror image of the sisters' characters.
This was not a difficult book to read on an academic level but it WAS a difficult read in that it was just too depressing...too much of it wallowed in self pity, self flagellation.
I did like the ending and I liked the way Elise finally confessed to what happened the night her husband...the sisters' father....died of a heart attack. The locket that Elise finds in the Christmas tree was just odd. The author didn't really do a great job in describing WHY...and it just left me feeling a bit confused, like Hm.....maybe Robert had some regrets....or maybe he had a premonition about his impending death....but...I found it to be a strange piece of the saga.
I also liked the Epilogue which takes place one year later. Elise finally gets her Christmas. But.....it left me with the feeling that they (the sisters) are still quite dysfunctional.
In my opinion this book is appropriate for ages 17 and older (due to content and language).
On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest, I rate this a 7.