Shame. Guilt. Passion. A community in shock. The bonds of sisterhood stretched to the limit. A mother’s heart in shreds.
Hats off to Maureen Lang for beautifully and courageously tackling a topic few would even consider. A young mother poisons her handicapped daughter and tries to end her own life as well. Both survive, and the mother is sentenced to jail. While most of the world would shake their heads and say “throw away the key,” the author unveils the real person behind the monster and the never-ending outpour of God’s redemption and peace.
Enter the pages of MY SISTER DILLY and be prepared to be swept away to a quiet, hog-farming community in rural Illinois, where a local daughter has committed the unspeakable. The story begins with her release, a perfect stepping off point as the details of her jail time matter little compared to what came before and after. One huge exception is her spiritual journey’s unexpected turn during her six-and-a-half-year internment. Anxiously waiting to pick Dilly up, her sister Hannah has left the man and career she loved in California to make amends for what she didn’t do to prevent Dilly’s demise.
Catherine Carlson, aka Dilly, leaves jail with uncertainties about the reception she’ll get from her hometown and family but walks solid in her faith. Hannah, far from God after the rigid “thou shalt not” religious upbringing she shared with Dilly, is taken aback by Dilly’s newfound faith. Despite their spiritual differences, Hannah is determined to sacrifice everything in order to lovingly glue together the pieces of Dilly’s shattered life. But Hannah can’t see that she’s not the “fixer” Dilly needs.
Hannah’s frustration grows as she realizes she cannot undo Dilly’s past, guarantee her future or protect her from the heartbreaking consequences of her crime. While continuing to take charge of Dilly’s post-jail life, Hannah’s mind and heart reel from frustration and heartache. Why is Dilly growing increasingly angry with Hannah? How could both Hannah and best friend Mac become solid Christ followers in the midst of so much tragedy? How can she ever let Mac know how much she loves him when his life is in Los Angeles and hers is now in hog country, Illinois? In Hannah’s mind, there is no choice. She must stay and take care of her broken sister. She’s the only one who can. It is that very mindset that tears at Dilly, who begrudges the guilt born of Hannah’s veiled unhappiness. Dilly knows if she is ever to experience the miracle of being with her daughter again, or moving forward with her life, God’s hand will guide the way, not Hannah’s.
Dilly and Hannah, along with the secondary characters of their parents, Mac and others, spring to life with complex, individual personalities, realistic frailties and believable dialogue. Like an artist expertly blending her palette of colors, the author combines these endearing characters with imagery that gently sets the reader down in the middle of Sugar Creek, Illinois. Her research of hog farming, the financial industry and police and hospital procedures is expertly woven into a story of unconditional love, heartache, forgiveness and learning to trust in God when all appears hopeless.
MY SISTER DILLY is a grabber, but not in the action-packed sense. It grabs tenderly, leading the reader from the real world to Hannah and Dilly’s farming community with an eye-opening, captivating series of plots and subplots, imagery and dialogue. It will caress your thoughts for weeks after the last word is consumed. This is a book you will want to read and share.
Reviewed by Susan Miura on September 24, 2008