Title: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 357 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
With empathy, grace, humor, and piercing insight, the author of gods in Alabama pens a powerful, emotionally resonant novel of the South that confronts the truth about privilege, family, and the distinctions between perception and reality—the stories we tell ourselves about our origins and who we really are.
Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.
It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.
Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.
The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson is a poignant and thought-provoking novel of secrets, complicated family relationships and the complexity of race relations the South today.
Just as Leia Birch Briggs is trying to figure how and when to break the news that she is going to become a single mom, her family begins imploding around her. Her “perfect” stepsister Rachel’s marriage is in serious trouble but the biggest blow is the discovery that her beloved ninety year old grandmother Birchie is suffering from Lewy Body dementia. With her thirteen year old niece Lavender in tow, Leia heads to Alabama to help Birchie and her best friend Wattie Price put their affairs in order while (hopefully) convincing them to move into assisted living. However, a stunning discovery sets the town’s tongues a wagging and an unplanned pregnancy becomes the least of Leia’s concerns as she tries to protect Birchie and Wattie from the repercussions from something that occurred in the very distant past.
Leia is a self-proclaimed nerd who successfully parlayed her love of superheroes and graphic novels into an extremely lucrative career. Her recent attendance at a comic book convention turned out to be a double-edged sword as she enjoys her still unbelievable success as the author of a wildly popular graphic novel while coming face to face with the life she could have been living if not for her fear of getting her heart broken again. This culminates in her out of character decision to drown her sorrows and indulge in a drunken one-night stand with a fan who Leia only knows as Batman (due to his cosplay costume).
Now trying to deal with the consequences of her actions, Leia has barely come to terms with her impending motherhood when she walks into Rachel’s marital disaster. Their relationship is extremely complicated and she is at a loss at how to help Rachel since her stepsister never reveals any weakness to her. In fact, Rachel is typically a force to be reckoned with as she steamrolls her way into “fixing” Leia’s problems.
Distraction arrives in the form of Birchie’s very public meltdown and Leia knows it is past time for her to take a firm hand with Birchie and Wattie. She has barely unpacked when the situation with Birchie spirals out of control and Leia realizes her grandmother is harboring a secret that is much larger and more damaging than her impending motherhood.
With the small town divided along racial lines, Leia experiences an epiphany of sorts that provides her with an answer to a situation she has been wrestling with. It also opens her eyes to the truth about the underlying racial tensions that continue to plague the South in general and her grandmother’s small town in particular. This shocking discovery also leads her to a complicated realization about Wattie that leaves in her a moral quandary about the increasingly complicated situation with her grandmother.
With an astute storyline, delightfully charming characters and a heartwarming small town setting, The Almost Sisters is a riveting novel of healing and new beginnings. Joshilyn Jackson does not shy away from tough subject matter and she handles these difficult issues with humor, sensitivity and perceptive observations that will resonate with readers. I absolutely loved and highly recommend this incredibly entertaining, insightful and heartfelt story.