December 18, 2017

"Still, I always thought my homeland was a single place. I was wrong."

Release Date: July 11, 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins | William Morrow
Pages: 352 pages
Source & Format: Publisher; ARC
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Thoughts on The Almost Sisters
The first book I read by Joshilyn Jackson didn't quite work for me, and I originally stopped reading the second. But I picked up The Opposite of Everyone earlier this year and really liked it! I loved Jackson's use of voice, the themes it explored, and the way I thought about it long after I was finished. After that experience, I was interested in more from her. Enter The Almost Sisters. I received an unsolicited review copy in March, just a few weeks after finishing The Opposite of Everyone. It was meant to be!

I read it in July, right around its publication, and fell head over heels in love. I immediately told Cassie she had to read it. I got the audiobook for future re-reads and grabbed a hardcover as soon as it was out (a signed edition, no less!). This is a new all-time favorite for me. And just like my review of The Alice Network from a few months ago, this is another instance where I loved a book so much that it took me forever to review it. I needed to secretly savor it's excellence! I'll tell you all the reasons I loved it in a moment, but first I've got to tell you what happened next.

On my new Joshilyn Jackson high, I picked up gods in Alabama, her debut... and the book I'd stopped reading a few years ago. As I returned to the story, I realized that I'd walked away initially because I hadn't been in the right frame of mind for it. When I was done with that one, I picked up Backseat Saints because the heroine was a secondary character from gods in Alabama. It ended up being my second favorite book from Jackson, and my love for it was the reason I then picked up A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. So, I've now read 6 of Jackson's 8 books (and will read the other 2 books, too). And you know? I'm planning to re-read the one I started with because I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll like it more now than I did originally.

With each new book I read, I've gained a deeper appreciation for Jackson's talent. Her characters are flawed but relatable. She approaches heavy topics with sensitivity and honesty. I love the way she writes dialogue, and I'm consistently impressed by the emotions she's able to capture. She's got a great sense of humor and never fails to make me laugh, even when the stories are more serious. So, obviously, I've become quite a fan of her work. Now, let me get back to talking about my love for Jackson's most recent release.

My son, Digby, began at exactly 3:02 in the morning on the first Friday in June. I don't mean his conception or his birth. I mean the moment he began for me, which happened in between those two larger event. It was a start so small I almost didn't notice. I was very, very busy panicking about my job.

And so begins The Almost Sisters. From this very first paragraph, I was hooked. Leia Birch Briggs is a graphic novelist with a love for superheroes, and that weakness lands her bed with a handsome (and anonymous) Batman one night at a comics convention. She winds up pregnant and can't find the right time to tell her conventional, Southern family about her impending single motherhood (or the fact that the baby is biracial) in the wake of the new that her step-sister's marriage is imploding and her ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, has been hiding signs of dementia. Leia returns to Alabama to put Birchie's affairs in order but ends up uncovering a family secret that reaches all the way back to the Civil War. Exposing the truth changes everything for Leia - the way she sees herself, her family and the world she thought she knew.

I honest to goodness loved everything about this book. Seriously, I wouldn't change a single thing about it. I was immediately invested in Leia's story - her love for graphic novels and comics was fascinating, her narrative voice was compelling and her journey was captivating. But the secondary characters -  Leia's grandmother, sister, niece and more - were all just as well developed. They jumped off the page and into my heart!

And honestly, the heroine and the quirky cast of secondary characters were elevated by Jackson's clear-eyed look at the South. The truths at the heart of this book are hard but necessary, especially in our current political climate. There were a few pages that I read multiple times. I wanted to quote them here, but they're more powerful in context. But the important thing is this: Jackson (who lives in Georgia) clearly loves the South, but she also sees its ugliness, too. And this is the story of a woman who is learning that the version of the South she's always known and loved isn't the only one that exists. It was powerful and, in my opinion, deftly handled.

There were a lot of storylines at play in the book, but I truly enjoyed them all. I predicted a bit of what happened, but that was fine with me. It wasn't the mystery or twists that drew me to this book. Instead, it was the characters, the voice, and the exploration of complex issues. This is Southern fiction at its finest. You won't find tired clich├ęs or a cardboard setting here. Instead, it's a rich, nuanced portrait of a diverse place, the people who inhabit it, and the truth about privilege and perception. I have already pushed this book on several of my closest friends and will continue to sing its praises in the months to come. I cannot wait to re-read it in the future - on audio, of course, so I can enjoy Jackson's superb narration. A BEST OF 2017, no question.

So Quotable
“You go to bed, too, and don’t fret, hear me? Things feel hard now, but it will pass. Everything passes, and something new comes along to fill the space.”
* I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. This did not affect my opinion of the book or my review.

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