When Norrie, Jane and Sassy Sullivan attend their grandmother's (known to all as "Almighty Lou"; simply "Almighty" to her family) traditional Christmas Day dinner, something not at all traditional happens: Almighty announces she's going to die and that their entire family has been removed from her plentiful will. One of the Sullivans has offended her, and she expects a written confession if the family is to be reinstated. Otherwise, Almighty's wealth will go to her favorite charity, which happens to be an organization providing dog ponchos to people who can't afford to buy raincoats for their pets. The sisters hasten to comply. It seems each one of the three feels certain that she is the offending granddaughter.
The first letter of confession is that of 17-year-old Norrie. Norrie has always been an obedient daughter and granddaughter, but there's no doubt that she has defied her family's expectations in recent times. It all begins when she signs up for a speed reading night course and meets Robinson Pepper. Robbie is her classmate but is in graduate school. Norrie almost falls over when she learns he's 25. And yet, as she says the first night she lays eyes on him, she’s doomed. This bedazzlement spells inevitable conflict in her life. Everyone expects her not only to attend the traditional Bachelors Cotillon on the arm of the rather milquetoastish Brooks Overbeck, but also probably to marry him eventually, thereby uniting the two most prestigious families in town. Her problems intensify when Brooks obligingly announces that he plans to accept her written invitation (the invitation, she notices, is addressed in Almighty's handwriting). The stage is set for Norrie's wrongdoing.
Sixteen-year-old Jane's confession comes next. Unlike her older sister, Jane is all about defiance. What could she possibly have done to rattle Almighty's cage? Well, how about her blog "myevilfamily.com," written expressly to, as she explains, "expose the sins of my family"? Yes, Jane wants to lay the truth bare about her well-established family, including secrets about her father, Daddy-O, and her mother, Ginger. But she begins with cold hard facts about Almighty, including planting a suspicion about the cause of the deaths of her many husbands. She also blogs some unpleasant stories about how Almighty acquired her wealth. As she confesses, readers also discover some interesting layers to Jane herself, such as what actually caused the rift between her and her ex-best friend.
Sassy, the 15-year-old sister, makes the most shocking confession of all. If what she admits to is true, she certainly has done grievous harm to Almighty. Sassy muses on when her luck changed for the good, months before Almighty's startling Christmas dinner announcement. She had survived a tremendous fall without suffering any consequence other than a tiny bruise. Since then, she believes she somehow became "the luckiest girl in the world." In fact, she announces, she's been hit by several cars without being damaged --- because she has become immortal. Sassy is certain that Almighty's announcement was triggered by a certain gesture she asked her brother to perform during the play she produced to entertain the family on Christmas.
This is an absorbing read. As in Natalie Standiford's previous (wonderful) HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT, every character is real and believably quirky. Parents Ginger and Daddy-O live in their own world, blithely oblivious to their kids. Her children call her Ginger because "just hearing the word 'mom' ages a woman twenty years." Somehow, they come off as mostly charming instead of fodder for child protective services. It's delightful to read about sisters who are as close as Norrie, Jane and Sassy. In their relationship, each one takes on a role. Norrie is maternal, Jane rocks the boat, and Sassy provides an odd spiritual presence --- yet they are way more than stereotypes.
By turns hilarious and poignant, CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS grabs readers and doesn't let them back into their own world until the confessing is over.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on September 1, 2010