It's June 1927 in Juniper, a tiny Kentucky town. Bertie Fischer is trying on the soft pink dress she will wear when she receives her eighth-grade diploma at commencement next Saturday. Her 19-year-old sister, Mabel, bought her the dress, and now she actually feels pretty, swirling her hair up and eyeing the pale green ribbon that her beau, Wallace, bought for her. Bertie is determined to wear the ribbon at commencement, which will let Wallace know that she loves him. She has big plans for him. When he finishes high school in one more year, she expects they will marry. She can leave school, and with both of them working, they can save up for their own house.
"THE SISTERS is an irresistible (almost addictive) read. From the opening chapter, we must keep turning pages to find out how these sisters' paths diverge."
Bertie can't tell Mabel her plans for the future because Mabel would like Bertie to finish high school, which is what their mother had wanted. Their unpleasant stepfather, Jim Butcher, flat out refused to let Mabel continue with high school after their mother died. Mabel had quit school and taken over their mother's housekeeping duties. Although Mabel's helpfulness has freed Bertie somewhat, she despises the way her older sister panders to Butcher, calling him "Daddy."
Today, as she twirls before the mirror, she hears Butcher calling her name. She should be attending to chores, so she knows she's in trouble. What if he tells her she can't go to graduation? However, he just stands in the doorway, staring at her in a way she's never seen. Then he breaks his gaze and won't meet her eyes. He asks her about commencement, and while she's answering him, Mabel appears, touching Butcher's arm and telling him that his breakfast is waiting for him.
The sisters share a close moment after Butcher leaves. Mabel brushes Bertie's hair, and reassures her that she has no plans to marry and leave her alone with their stepfather. Mabel had once had a suitor --- until Butcher ran him off. Now Mabel spots the ribbon Bertie cherishes. She tells her younger sister that she's happy for her and Wallace, but to be sure Butcher doesn't find out about their romantic relationship since he surely would ruin it for her. Bertie and Mabel often speak of running away. Mabel hides change whenever she can, saying that someday she will have enough money for Bertie to go to New York or San Francisco, any place far from Juniper. Bertie wants that, too, until she thinks of leaving Wallace. She could never do that.
On Saturday, the church is packed for the eighth-grade graduation ceremony. As the crowd settles, Bertie keeps standing and turning to scan the audience, looking for the two people she cares for, Mabel and Wallace. She can't see them anywhere, but how can that be? Why would the two most important people in her life not come to her graduation? Suddenly, she's remembering unusual things about this week, like the way Mabel had acted with Butcher, almost seeming to flirt with him. And what about Wallace? Why had he sent his friend to tell Bertie he wouldn't be waiting for her after school that week?
Suddenly, Bertie remembers the way Mabel had said, "I like Wallace." Just a few days ago, she happened to see Wallace and Mabel standing together in town, in the midst of an intense discussion, ending with Wallace holding Mabel in his arms. Still, Bertie cannot believe it when she finally discovers what Mabel has done. The older sister's actions, intended to rescue Bertie, are completely misunderstood. They lead to a domino effect of tragic consequences that reverberate through the generations until the present day.
THE SISTERS is an irresistible (almost addictive) read. From the opening chapter, we must keep turning pages to find out how these sisters' paths diverge. We learn of their lives and those of their offspring as the years pass, culminating in an astonishing flashback scene that ties up lingering mysteries and leaves readers hoping that author Nancy Jensen is hard at work on her next book.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on October 5, 2011