Desert Isle Keeper
The Almost Sisters
I can’t think of a Joshilyn Jackson novel I haven’t loved. There’s something so very special about the way she constructs her stories set in the American South. Her love for the region comes through so clearly in her stories of independent women struggling to understand and appreciate their place in an ever-changing world. The Almost Sisters is her latest novel, and it ranks among my very favorite books of 2017.
Leia Birch Briggs is a thirty-eight-year-old comic artist who is pretty content with the way her life has unfolded. She’s the creator of a relatively successful comic strip which affords her quite a bit of financial stability, and she has a pretty good relationship with the members of her family. Things aren’t exactly perfect for Leia, but she knows they could be a heck of a lot worse, and she chooses to focus on the positive aspects of her life rather than the negative ones.
The story opens with Leia’s realization that the one night stand she engaged in at a comic convention a few months back has left her pregnant. She doesn’t have a clue how to get in touch with the father of the child, since the two of them didn’t do much talking before falling into bed. All she knows is he loves superheroes as much as she does, and Batman is his favorite of them all. Still, she’s not overly concerned. She has the means to raise the child on her own, and, although her very conventional family might express some initial discomfort with the fact she’s going to have a biracial child fathered by a man she doesn’t know, Leia’s sure they’ll come around eventually.
Around this same time, Leia becomes aware that her step sister Rachel is having some marital problems. Rachel is married to Leia’s childhood best friend, a fact that has caused some strife between the women over the years. Rachel’s life is storybook perfect. At least, it is as far as Leia knows, so the idea that Rachel and her husband are going through a rough patch is kind of hard for Leia to take in. She’s not sure if she can be of any help, especially since Rachel is the one who usually steps in to help Leia clean up whatever messes she’s managed to get herself into.
And then, as if all this isn’t enough, Leia starts receiving phone calls and text messages from friends and neighbors of her beloved grandmother. Ninety-year-old Birchie has been diagnosed with a form of dementia, something she’s been trying to hide with the help of her lifelong friend, Wattie. But the time for concealment is over, and Leia realizes she needs to pay Birchie a visit and help her make some difficult decisions about how she’ll live out whatever time she has left. Rachel agrees Leia needs to leave right away, and begs her to take thirteen-year-old Lavender along with her. Leia is initially reluctant. There’s a lot going on, and she doesn’t want the added responsibility of looking after her teenaged niece, but she eventually agrees, knowing Rachel and Jake need time alone together to resolve their issues.
Once she and Lavender arrive in Alabama, it soon becomes apparent to Leia that dementia isn’t the only thing going on with Birchie and Wattie. Birchie has a secret, and her ever-loosening grip on reality is making it pretty close to impossible to keep it under wraps. Now, Leia is struggling to protect her grandmother from the ghosts of her past as well as the ravages of her failing mind without fully understanding the gravity of what Birchie has been hiding for more than half a century.
Over the course of the summer, Leia is forced to learn some valuable lessons about what it means to be a woman and a mother in the American South. There are some moments of tenderness, especially between Leia and the father of her unborn baby, and the way they come together for the good of their baby is wonderful to behold. Ms. Jackson doesn’t give her readers unrealistic expectations for a HEA, but she deftly paints a picture of two very different people determined to give their son the best life possible.
Whether you’re an established fan of Ms. Jackson’s work or someone who is looking for a good introduction to it, The Almost Sisters is pretty close to being a perfect book. It’s a deep exploration of love in all its forms. Ms. Jackson doesn’t shy away from the difficult aspects of family life, but neither does she dwell upon them, making this a great mix of darkness and light. If you’re looking for a captivating read this summer, definitely give this one a try. I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you did.