The September Sisters
The September Sisters is YA Fiction of the grim realistic variety. It’s the story of what happens in a family after a child goes missing. Specifically, what happens to the child who is left behind.
Abigail Reed goes to sleep one summer night after a fight with her sister Becky, and when she wakes up the next morning Becky is gone. There is no sign of a struggle, no evidence of breaking and entering; Becky is just not there. The neighbors initially rally around the family and do a search, but when no trace of Becky is found, interest eventually wanes, and Abby finds herself literally on her own.
Abby’s father keeps everything moving. He goes to work, hires a private investigator, deals with the police, and persuades their neighbor, Mrs. Ramirez, to watch Abby when he can’t be there (which is often). Abby’s mother takes to her room and basically doesn’t leave it except for periodic cigarette breaks. Abby’s friends at school shun her. Mrs. Ramirez is no substitute for all the people in Abby’s life who have suddenly placed their attention elsewhere, and Abby must cope with her sister’s loss and her family’s breakdown by herself.
The book is written chronologically, sandwiched between a quick teaser at the beginning where Abby’s father shows up at school and tells her, “They’ve found her,” and the ending which repeats this cliffhanger beginning and finishes the story off. It’s an effective intro: I really wanted to know what had happened to Becky. Denying myself an end peek, my interest was sustained for a significant page count, but nowhere near the 355 pages it took to get to the solution of the mystery. And what was revealed was hardly satisfactory.
Ultimately, though competently written, this story was just far too depressing for me. It’s realistic. It’s believable. Many families do fall apart after a child dies (or goes missing). But none of the many, many unhappy things that happen to Abby happen for a purpose, either in a literary or literally meaningful way. People fail her because, well, because people fail each other when they are put to the test. She forms one significant (somewhat romantic) attachment to another struggling person in the course of the story, but this relationship turns out to be transitory as well. At the end of the book Abby is as alone as she is at the beginning in terms of real emotional support.
The September Sisters may appeal to readers who like stories about suffering, about loneliness, about being helpless and on the outside. But its ending was not nearly happy or meaningful enough for me to make the slog through Abby’s pain worthwhile. I do rather wish I had those hours back. I could have read something more insightful, upbeat, or just entertaining with them.