Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Review: The Almost Sisters

Summary: With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality---the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood. 

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows. -- William Morrow

I have a few days off of work over the holidays, and I figure it's as good a time as any to catch up on some reviews. One book that I read quite awhile ago and really enjoyed was THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson. I can usually depend on Ms. Jackson's books to be entertaining, but I will admit that I like some more than others.

THE ALMOST SISTERS is my favorite Joshilyn Jackson book that I've read in some time. It tells the story of Leia Birch Briggs, a graphic novelist that hooks up with a Batman during a comics convention. This spontaneous behavior isn't typical of Leia, and she ends up paying a price for it. She's finds herself pregnant with a baby boy at 38, and she's not exactly thrilled to tell her traditional Southern family... especially since the baby is biracial!

Meanwhile, Leia's step-sister is having serious issues with her marriage, and her 90 year old grandmother Birchie is showing signs of dementia. So Leia decides it's time to go home and face the music. She wants to help her grandmother get things in order and that includes cleaning out her big Victorian house. What Leia discovers in the attic is shocking to say the least (Hint: it includes bones)! She learns that her grandmother has a huge secret that goes the whole way back to the Civil War, and this secret could affect the entire family's lives as they know it!

I really liked THE ALMOST SISTERS and it reminded me why I enjoy Ms. Jackson's novels so much. She writes Southern fiction like few do, and she really created a cast of characters in this novel that I cared about. Leia was a fantastic character, as was Birchie, and I loved their relationship. However, I also really liked the humor that she incorporated into the story. There are some scenes that are laugh out loud funny.

I thought Ms. Jackson was very clever in how she handled the themes of sisters. Of course, there was the relationship between Leia and her step-sister; however, there was also a sisterly relationship between Birchie and her best friend (and African American caretaker) Wattie that I found extremely interesting. In addition, there were some sister themes in Leia's graphic novels. She created two sister characters, Violet and Violence, who were total opposites... and maybe represented the dual elements of her own personality?

There is no doubt that this story deals with some serious issues including race in our country. I thought Ms. Jackson handled this issue in a very insightful way. I can't come up with specifics at this point, but suffice it to say, that I appreciated some of her social commentary on the subject matter. It was wise without being preachy. In addition, I thought the way she wrote about Birchie's dementia was spot on. I had a grandmother with dementia and Leia and Birchie's relationship really resonated with me. There were times I cried and times I laughed about my grandmother, and I felt the same way about Birchie when I read this novel.

I also really liked that there was a mystery aspect to THE ALMOST SISTERS. It doesn't really classify as a mystery, but there were so many secrets from the past that it almost read like one. I could figure out some things, but I still managed to be surprised. The truth that is eventually revealed is dark and a bit disturbing but certainly made for a good story.

THE ALMOST SISTERS would make an excellent book club pick. There is a reading guide available with twelve intriguing questions. Some of the themes you might want to explore include relationships between sisters, family dynamics, mental illness/dementia, friendship, secrets, creativity and of course, race.

I really enjoyed THE ALMOST SISTERS. Highly recommended to fans of Ms. Jackson's as well as fans of contemporary women's fiction.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.


bermudaonion said...

You know how I love Joshilyn Jackson! I can't believe I haven't picked this book up yet. I need to rectify that soon.

Karen White said...

I agree - this was my favorite Joshilyn Jackson book and I was already a fan. It was also a great book club book; so much to talk about. In addition to everything you mention, I really liked how Jackson describes Leia's artistic process. It was so detailed and I felt like I was inside her mind.

The Book Sage said...

I've never read Jackson. But I am seeing this all over the blogiverse.