4 stars out of 5
Stop me if you've heard this before: Angst-ridden female trying to put together pieces of a tortured past. Alienating those close to her (i.e., live-in-love, close relatives) because she can't come to grips with the death of a close childhood friend. Characters purporting to be friends who may have (gasp!) sinister intentions. Flashback chapters that reveal details intended to bring readers to the "brilliant twist" (the book's subtitle, not my words) at the end.
Yawn. The only thing missing is the word "girl" in the title (but hey, in my world, "sister" is close enough for horseshoes). Yes, it's a concept with which I've grown more than weary. So why 4 stars? Because I can't deny that the author has done it really well - at least after the first quarter of the book, during which I wrestled with the little demon in the back of my head that was screaming, "You've been there, done that, woman - pull the plug!" But the real me isn't a quitter (unless it really, really stinks), so I forced myself to carry on. And in the end, I must acknowledge that it's a more than worthy entry in the current formula craze.
Here's the deal: Grace's friend Charlie died unexpectedly a few months back, shortly after returning from a six-year disappearing act. Because Charlie's last words included "forgive me," Grace is flummoxed; what did she mean by that? Could she have saved her friend? When she opens an old memory box, some surprising details about Charlie's life pop out, turning Grace into even more of an emotional wreck. You see, much of her life she's haunted by a bevvy of other childhood traumas - and, as the formula demands - she blames herself for much of those as well.
Fairly early on, Grace sets out to find Charlie's father; Charlie's mother, Lexie, has long refused to provide any details, including the guy's name. In that process, Grace meets Anna, who claims to be Charlie's sister - the daughter of that same man. Anna courts favor with an already overwrought Grace, even wrangling an invitation to move in with Grace and her boyfriend Dan (Lord have mercy - what could possibly go wrong with that)?
The rest of the book taunts readers with glimpses of characters who may or may not be out to get Grace (both mentally and physically). Admittedly, I never ran across that "brilliant twist," but there is an acceptable ending. It's not a Dickinson "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world," but rather closer to an "All's Well That Ends Well." Sort of.
All things considered, it's a well-written debut novel that deserves attention (and yes, that's a positive recommendation). But don't expect much of anything new and different - just same strokes, different folks.
The Sister by Louise Jensen (Bookouture, July 2016); 307 pp.