In the mid-'80s my sister enlisted in the military. After boot camp, we saw her on infrequent leaves, occasionally on holidays, but we stayed in touch mostly via letters and phone calls. Following one of her brief visits home, I noticed a few items of clothing were missing but thought nothing of it. Accompanying her next letter was a picture of her standing at attention in front of an army locker. Peeking out from the small but neatly stacked pile of clothing on the top shelf was the unmistakable pattern of my blue and white floral miniskirt, one of the missing items from my wardrobe. Now one might think that this finding would have outraged me, but it didn't. On the contrary, this discovery was par for the course. Anyone who has ever had a sister can relate to the above scenario and will therefore definitely understand the relationship that Jennifer Weiner has created in IN HER SHOES with her sister act, Rose and Maggie Feller.
Rose is a successful Princeton graduate, an up-and-coming lawyer with a closet full of the very best and most expensive designer shoes on the market. A tad on the heavy side, Rose lacks only two things: a fulfilling love life and a healthy self-esteem. Maggie is Rose's carefree, careless and younger size two sister, whose dyslexia has kept her back on the career front. She has held a bevy of positions, from salesperson in a Banana Republic to dog groomer at the local pet shop. In the love arena, she has had more than her share of one-night stands and affairs, but she too lacks a fulfilling love life and a healthy self-esteem.
The sisters lost their mother when they were very young and were brought up by their father, who was aimless without his true love, and a stereotypical evil stepmother. In one respect, IN HER SHOES is about the lasting effect that loss has on the two sisters and the life choices they make. But the story is also a journey of survival and self-discovery for Rose and Maggie --- a journey that takes them to Florida, where they rediscover a long-forgotten grandmother brimming with familial wisdom and direction.
In her sophomore effort, like other great storytellers, Weiner writes what she knows --- she revisits the Princeton campus featured in her first book, focuses on the weight problem of one of her main characters and provides a dysfunctional family. However, Weiner proved that she excels at fleshing out characters and sharing with the reader their motivations and development in her debut novel GOOD IN BED; IN HER SHOES is no different. Weiner offers strong and likable characters that expand with their growing worlds. As the old adage alludes to, one never knows what someone else's life is truly like until you've walked in their shoes for a day. Maggie and Rose have walked clearly diverse paths in life but they share shoes --- figuratively and literally --- and, in each other's shoes, their notions of what makes the other one tick are challenged daily and they even find themselves self-evaluating in new ways. Weiner laces the stories with her trademark wit, sarcasm and real world insight. When the shoe is on the other foot, Weiner is at her best.
Reviewed by Roberta O'Hara on January 22, 2011