Growing up, Josie and Meredith Garland shared a loving, if sometimes contentious relationship. Josie was impulsive, spirited, and outgoing; Meredith hardworking, thoughtful, and reserved. When tragedy strikes their family, their different responses to the event splinter their delicate bond. Fifteen years later, Josie and Meredith are in their late thirties, following very different paths. Josie, a first-grade teacher, is single—and this close to swearing off dating for good. What she wants more than the right guy, however, is to become a mother—a feeling that is heightened when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter ends up in her class. Determined to have the future she’s always wanted, Josie decides to take matters into her own hands. On the outside, Meredith is the model daughter with the perfect life. A successful attorney, she’s married to a wonderful man, and together they’re raising a beautiful four-year-old daughter. Yet lately, Meredith feels dissatisfied and restless, secretly wondering if she chose the life that was expected of her rather than the one she truly desired. As the anniversary of their tragedy looms and painful secrets from the past begin to surface, Josie and Meredith must not only confront the issues that divide them but also come to terms with their own choices.
I feel the need to start this review by explaining how I managed to give this novel 4-stars when I completely disliked every character in this book. I am usually drawn to a good family drama, especially stories about siblings. So, the premise of this book was a huge selling point. Another reason that brought me to this novel was the author. I really enjoyed Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed and Something Blue, and I was already familiar with her style of writing. Indeed, I think Giffin really shines in family drama and the description of everyday life in a way that’s interesting and smart.
This book surrounds the story of this family, the Garlands, who after losing their oldest son in a car accident become extremely dysfunctional. There is something to be said about grief and tragedy. It either brings out the best out of people, or it brings the absolute worst out of them. In the case of the Garlands, it certainly brought out the worst.
Although this story does not really have a plot, Giffin still manages to make the narrative engaging and the dialogues dynamic. The format of the novel is set up with alternating chapters between Josie’s accounts and Meredith’s accounts of their life. Josie is reaching her late 30s. She is an elementary school teacher, self-absorbed, and selfish. Meredith’s not much better either. She is an OCD type lawyer who, although she doesn’t see it, is also extremely selfish. Both sisters, together with the father and the mother have never truly processed the death of Daniel fifteen years earlier and somehow those scars have dictated their lives, their choices, and the relationship (or the lack of) they have with each other.
I really tried to sympathize with these sisters, but I just couldn’t. I believe Meredith’s complete ungratefulness and inability to see anything beyond her belly button had me brace myself not to slap her in the face a couple of times. And that is one of the reasons this novel deserves 4-stars. Although parts of the story are predictable and even impossible, Giffin’s character development was so good that I had a very clear idea of the voice and mannerisms of these characters by the time I was done with the book. This is an emotional and well-written novel with themes of grievance, forgiveness, friendship, and love.
I received an early copy of this book for free from Penguin Random House First To Read in exchange for my honest review.