Title: The Oleander Sisters by Elaine Hussey
Genre: Historical (’60s), Fiction
Length: 352 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
An emotionally riveting tale of the bonds of family and the power of hope in the sultry Deep South
In 1969, the first footsteps on the moon brighten America with possibilities. But along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a category five storm is brewing, and the Blake sisters of Biloxi are restless for change. Beth “Sis” Blake has always been the caretaker, the dutiful one, with the weight of her family’s happiness—and their secrets—on her shoulders. She dreams of taking off to pursue her own destiny, but not before doing whatever it takes to rescue her sister.
Emily Blake, an unwed mother trying to live down her past, wants the security of marriage for the sake of her five-year-old son, Andy. But secure is the last thing she feels with her new husband. Now she must put aside pride, and trust family to help her find the courage to escape.
With Hurricane Camille stirring up havoc, two sisters—each desperate to break free—begin a remarkable journey where they’ll discover that in the wake of destruction lies new life, unshakable strength and the chance to begin again. Dreams are reborn and the unforgettable force of friendship is revealed in The Oleander Sisters, an extraordinary story of courage, love and sacrifice.
The Oleander Sisters by Elaine Hussey is a truly amazing novel that is heartwarming, poignant and ultimately, uplifting. Taking place in Mississippi during late summer in 1969, the Blake’s are a close-knit family whose lives are becoming frayed around the edges in the weeks leading up and immediately following sister Emily’s wedding.
The Oleander Sisters takes place between two unforgettable events in American history. Beginning with Neil Armstrong’s exciting moon landing, the Blake family is thrilled with their brother Jim’s safe return from Vietnam but there are mixed emotions about Emily’s upcoming wedding. Oldest sister Beth (who is mainly addressed as “Sis”) does not like or trust Emily’s fiancé but Emily refuses to heed her sister’s warnings. Jim may be back in Mississippi but he cannot escape the ravages of war and he suffers from bouts of PTSD. The family’s matriarch, grandmother Sweet Mama, is losing her battle with dementia and she is no longer able to hide her failing memory but luckily she can count on her lifelong friend, Beulah, to fill in the gaps.
In the weeks leading up to Hurricane Camille, the Blake family continues to deteriorate. During preparations for Emily’s garden wedding, Sis uncovers a bewildering secret that no one is willing to discuss. Immediately following her wedding, Emily quickly realizes she has made a terrible mistake but will she escape her marriage unscathed? Sis has gladly shouldered responsibility for her family, but she is only now feeling the weight of her own unrealized dream of having a husband and kids of her own.
But there also glimpses of hope and happiness interspersed with the family’s crises. Emily’s son Andy is delightfully innocent and he remains mostly untouched by the drama surrounding him. An old family friend returns to town and a romance begins to bloom for Sis. Jim is rock solid in the face of danger and with his help, they emerge from tragedy stronger than ever.
The Oleander Sisters is wonderful novel of love, strength and devotion. Elaine Hussey brings the Mississippi coast and the characters vibrantly to life. It is a realistic and gritty portrayal of strong Southern women who will do anything to protect their family. An absolutely riveting novel that I highly recommend.