Title: The Good Sister
Author: Jamie Kain
Release Date: 10/07/14
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
The Good Sister was one of my most pleasant surprises of 2014. Obviously I found the idea of the story interesting, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked it up, but I never expected to as taken in by the story as I was and to count it among one of my favorite books of 2014. Before I picked up the book the whole hippie family and the dead-sister perspective gave me pause, but the way that Jamie Kain handled those two parts of the story, and the rest of the story, was so impressive, especially for a debut author.
The official description of this book is kind of awful and misleading and really sells the story short. At the beginning of the story Sarah, the “good” sister is dead and no one quite knows what happened. Sarah had been sick for much of her teenage life with cancer, but she was finally healthy and everyone thought she was going to live a healthy, successful life as the golden child. Her death is tough on her entire family, her former hippie parents are now divorced and have pretty much sold out and did a 180-degree turn to fancy, corporate lives, but Sarah’s death is especially hard on her two sisters, Rachel and Asha. Hands down the biggest surprise of the book was how the sisters just didn’t get along. Sarah and Asha had been close, Asha had given Sarah a bone marrow transfusion years before and that experience bonded them, but they had grown apart towards the end of Sarah’s life. Rachel is difficult, as Rachel, Asha, and Sarah all acknowledge, and she never really bonded or got along with either of sisters. The story is told from the perspectives of all three sisters, Sarah from beyond the grave, and is really about fixing the sisters as individuals and their entire family.
Rachel was probably the most complicated character in the book, and there were lots of complicated characters, and also maybe the most damaged, and again there were lots of damaged characters here. Rachel graduated high school a semester early and now she walks at a coffee shop in their hometown outside of San Francisco. Sadly Rachel spends most of her time searching for attention she never got from her parents or from her sisters and to find it she looks to guys, more often than not guys she shouldn’t be dating including Sarah’s former boyfriend, a guy Asha thinks is a drug dealer, and a Buddhist monk. It’s when Rachel meets the Buddhist monk, a guy just a few years older than she is, that she starts to think she can change her life. Rachel was with Sarah the day she died and she blames herself for Sarah’s death. When she meets the monk she tries to seduce him, but he is steadfast in his celibacy and really just tries to show Rachel that she deserves happiness and is worthy of allowing good people to love and care about her.
Asha was another complicated and damaged character. She’s the youngest sister, still in high school, and even though she says and does thing beyond her years she’s still very much a child. Asha often skips school, spends her nights sleeping in a local park, and abuses drugs and alcohol. At the start of the book she’s trying to seduce her guy best friend’s older brother, but after her best friend gets angry at her about his brother she begins to think her best friend might have feelings for her. Even though her actions are often those of someone older her thought processes and her reaction to thinks were fairly young and I often wanted to just wrap Asha up and take care of her.
The sister that worried me the most going in was Sarah, I don’t normally read books from the perspective of dead characters, but I was immediately struck by how normal Sarah seemed. The way the story is told Sarah also doesn’t quite know what happened to lead her to her death so she’s uncovering the story the same way that Asha and Rachel are uncovering the story. Towards the end of the book Sarah’s voice did get a little cheesy and dramatic, but for the most part I was impressed by it.
If I had one criticism of the book it would be that Jamie Kain tried to do too much. It’s a very full, complicated, layered story and there were times things didn’t feel fleshed out enough or moments when a new character or situation would just appear, like Rachel’s drug dealer boyfriend who literally isn’t mentioned for more than half the book and then is suddenly in two or so scenes. In the acknowledgments, which were at the beginning of the book (which I hate) Kain talked about how she worked on the book for a while and had so many ideas she had to narrow down and sometimes the story really felt like that was the case.
Bottom Line: The Good Sister is one of my favorite books of 2014 and certainly one of the most impressive debuts I’ve read. The characters are flawed and the situations are complicated, but Jamie Kain handles both of those beautifully. I wanted to keep living in the Kinsey sisters’ world, it was so interesting and well done and I just felt like I knew the sisters and loved and cared about them, faults and all. This is a must-read that I hope more people will be picking up.
I received an electronic review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley (thank you!). All opinions are my own.
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