Monday, May 15, 2017

And I don't want to think about tomorrow: THE SUNSHINE SISTERS.

The Sunshine SistersThe Sunshine Sisters by Jane Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ronni Sunshine has summoned her daughters home. The aging actress is ill, and she wants her daughters by her side. This, however, will be easier said than done, as her three children--Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy--are estranged, both from each other and their mother: the result of a traumatic childhood. Even Ronni will now readily admit she focused on her acting career and beauty rather than her daughters. Her constant belittlement and pressure on the girls made them turn on each other as well. Nell lives the closest to her mother, on a nearby farm, and her son River is in grad school. Middle child Meredith spent her childhood struggling with her weight, thanks to endless biting comments from Ronni; she fled to England and is now engaged. Youngest Lizzie escaped most of her mother's wrath and appears to be the "golden child": she's a successful chef and celebrity, with a TV show and line of related products, but her marriage and personal life aren't all that they seem. Frustrated by their mother's long history of hypochondria, the girls reluctantly return home, excepting to find her fine. However, it seems this time Ronni may be telling the truth: she's really sick. Can the Sunshine sisters set aside their differences? And can they ever forgive their mother?

In some ways, I'm not sure why I keep giving Jane Green books a chance. I liked Summer Secrets well-enough, but was really let down by Saving Grace and Falling. I was intrigued that in her acknowledgements, Green mentions that this is the first book in while where she's felt like herself. I went in hoping that this was true, but still wary, and truthfully, this wariness may have clouded some of my thoughts and feelings about the book.

Overall, this is a summery read, though it does deal with some serious subject matter. If you're looking for a book that will surprise you, this isn't it. Most of these plot points I saw coming from a few miles away; I predicted the majority of the twists and turns before they happened. And, truly, I think the ending is a foregone conclusion. Green relies a bit to heavily on some tropes, as well. Serious older sister? Check. Insecure middle sister? Check. Flighty younger sister? She's here, too, don't worry.

Still, this was a fun book--despite the dark topic at its core--and I found myself compelled to read through the second half in nearly one sitting. Despite some of the transparency of the characters, I was oddly invested in their lives. The novel starts out with a brief glimpse of Ronni summoning her daughters home, then goes back in the past, allowing us to learn about the Sunshine family via various snippets from the sisters at different points in time. In this way, we sort of catch up with the family fast-forward style--it's like a cheat sheet of sorts. It also allows us to get to know each sister a bit better and explore their relationship with their mother (and other sisters). It's easy to see how much influence Ronni had on their lives and how she shaped them into the women they are today.

The girls can certainly be frustrating at times. Poor, needy Meredith drove me nearly mad, with her insecurities and inability to stand up for herself. There's also a point in the book where Meredith magically cleans up after a party (everything is fixed) and later loses a large amount of weight (everything is fixed, again!). I would have liked to have seen a little more plot realism. It was also hard to see how anyone could be quite as big of a doormat as Meredith, even with her mother's influence. And, truly, Ronni is pretty bad. It's an interesting technique--learning how terrible of a mother she is after we're told in the beginning of the novel that she's sick. But, in this way, we're allowed to see how the sisters were alienated by their poor upbringing and how everyone has reached the point we are at today.

Eventually, we reach the present day, with the girls learning about their mother's illness and coming to grips with reality. And, Ronni, of course, must grapple with the kind of mother she was to her children. She's a surprisingly compelling character considering how awful she was to her children, so that's a testament to Green's characterization. To me, the novel picked up a bit more in the present day time period. There were still some silly, unbelievable moments, but I truly did find myself invested in Meredith, Nell, and Lizzy (and Ronni).

The book does wrap things up too easily, as I stated. It's often quite trite and cliche, so you have to go in prepared. Think Lifetime movie, wrapped up in a bow. Still, it's fun at times and certainly a quick read. Well-suited for the beach or a vacation.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher and Netgalley (thank you!); it is available everywhere as of 06/06/2017.

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