“There once was a boy in the north country. He had sisters one, two, three. Love will be true, true to my love. Love will be true to you.”
Title: Sisters One, Two, Three
Author: Nancy Star
Genre and Themes: Contemporary, Family, Moving On
Publication: Lake Union Publishing, 1 January 2017
Read: January 2017
After a tragic accident on Martha’s Vineyard, keeping secrets becomes a way of life for the Tangle family. With memories locked away, the sisters take divergent paths. Callie disappears, Mimi keeps so busy she has no time to think, and Ginger develops a lifelong aversion to risk that threatens the relationships she holds most dear.
When a whispered comment overheard by her rebellious teenage daughter forces Ginger to reveal a long-held family secret, the Tangles’ carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. Upon the death of Glory, the family’s colorful matriarch, and the return of long-estranged Callie, Ginger resolves to return to Martha’s Vineyard and piece together what really happened on that calamitous day when a shadow fell over four sun-kissed siblings playing at the shore. Along with Ginger’s newfound understanding come the keys to reconciliation: with her mother, with her sisters, and with her daughter.
At first, I thought I won’t like this book as much as I did when I finished reading it. Maybe it was because I was not in the mood for a family drama when I started reading. Or because the cover led me to believe that this was going to be an easy and light read.
The story is divided into two parts. Part One narrates the present leading to Glory’s death and the past from Ginger’s thirteenth birthday to that awful day at a beach in Martha’s Vineyard in alternating chapters. It sets the backstory and glimpses from the past explain how things became the way they are now.
The Tangles are just another family with all the usual quirks, problems, and secrets. The siblings’ (Ginger, Mimi, Charlie, and Callie) relationship is as harmonious as it can get despite having different personalities. Ginger, being the eldest, is often asked to look after her siblings. Callie is the youngest and is closest to her brother Charlie, who also shares a bedroom with her. Solly runs a toy store and is a very sweet and loving father and husband. Glory, on the other hand always want project a great image of herself to others even if that meant twisting facts a little bit to suit her needs. She also likes to make fun of her husband’s job and business. I didn’t really like Glory.
One summer, all six of them decided (or more appropriately, Glory decided for all of them) to spend their vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, a place she discovered from their neighbor Evelyn. Solly had to stay behind at first to take care of stuff at work and while he’s gone, Glory was a little too close to Casper, Evelyn’s brother. Maybe it was not out of romantic interests and only because he’s the only person she knew and she wanted to fit in, but I still think her actions were inappropriate. Imagine refusing to give your children food just so they wouldn’t be too full when this man brings picnic food for them. And ignoring their grumbling of their stomachs for that matter. And when the said man arrives with no lunch with him but just fudge:
But Glory did not want Mr. Diggans to be sorry. “There is no reason on earth you should be worrying about my children’s lunch. Four of them, hungry all the time. They’re like beggars, really. You should have seen the meal we had before we came. I’m surprised we fit in the car.”
Did I mention I really didn’t like Glory? This continued until Solly arrived at the island, at that point she seemed to be irritated his husband finally came. Really.
Solly’s delight was not easily diminished. His grin widened as he presented his wife with the umbrella. “For you.”
Glory took another step back. “What’d you bring that for?”
“Didn’t you tell me the umbrella you took from home is too flimsy? Like a toothpick, you said, it falls over. This?” He offered the umbrella again. “Solid wood. Weighs a ton.”
“An elephant weighs a ton, Solly. You think I want to sit at the beach under an elephant?” She hurried toward the car and put a quick distance between them.
After an incident from which Charlie got a broken arm, Sollly had to go home to avoid conflict with his wife. And then the next day, a tragic thing happened. Charlie died after being buried under a sand hole he was digging. Chaos followed and days after the accident, all five of them are back in their home. Except everything isn’t really normal.
People were racing from shopping for loose-leaf notebooks to getting haircuts and new shoes. But Ginger wasn’t so sure. It seemed like a big thing to not notice, that a family who went on vacation with four kids came back with three.
It seems that Charlie’s death took the biggest toll on Callie since the two of them are practically inseparable. Problems piled one after another. Callie was being difficult to manage and the incident was followed shortly by Solly’s death. Eventually, Callie was sent to a boarding a school and never came back home again.
Part Two is all set in the present and starts with the reunion of the Tangle sisters, following the death of their mother Glory. Callie’s return after decades when her sisters thought she was estranged, more questions were raised than answered for Ginger and Mimi. Due to Glory’s wishes to be cremated and have her ashes scattered to the sea, Callie led her sisters to Martha’s Vineyard, the very place where their family started to fall apart years ago.
Ginger and Mimi struggled to understand why their sister had been away for so many years. As they explore the town, they uncover the truths about what really happened on that day and they found themselves face to face with the secrets that their mother spent her whole life keeping from them.
As the Tangles faced one tragedy after another, each had a different way of coping with the grief. Because of fear to experience them all over again and to the annoyance of almost everyone around her, Ginger constantly worries about things that can go wrong (basically, everything). She even teaches a class about The Dangers of <insert-anything-under-the-sun-here>. Mimi busied herself by jumping from one project to another to avoid thinking of it again. And lastly, Glory refused to acknowledge the impact these events had on the family and insisted and they should go on with their lives as if nothing ever happened.
As much as I didn’t like Glory at first, a mother would always do what they deem is necessary to keep her children safe and her family from falling apart even though sometimes their ways are not the best and even have more long-term bad impacts than positive ones.
“I got to ask Gingie to get me drops. Gingie loves to do errands. You need anything at all, Callie Claire, just ask her. Makes her happy. I don’t know why. Girl has a marshmallow for a heart. If you have a big problem, get Mimi on the horn. What a fighter. Like a bulldog. Never gives up. She’s like me that way. And if Mimi says no, ignore her and ask again. She’ll come around. She may be tough on the outside, but inside another big heart. Both of them, all of you. My three bighearted girls.”
Mothers, Glory included, will always love their children unconditionally. They just have different ways of showing it.
In one way or another, the Tangles are just another normal family like ours. I’m sure all of us has had a conflict within our families at least once in our lives and Sisters One, Two, Three will remind us of those times, our past actions which led us to that point, how we moved on and the lessons that we learned.
It wasn’t bad advice. But the tricky thing about advice was how it quickly lost its power when the person who gave it wasn’t present.
The problem was there were so many things that could happen and no way to predict which would be the one that actually did.
Ginger finally understood it. Her mother had banned photograph because the captured memories were painful to see.
I like to be busy, that’s all. Busy makes for happy.
All I meant was, it feels bad to find out someone you care about hates someone in your family.
Unfortunately, between you and me, not every child can be saved. Some butterflies need to fly free.
Callie’s like a flower. A special flower that needs to be transplanted somewhere it can grow right.
Every family has its quirks. Ours is we mix up words. That’s what Tangles do. End of story. Mission accomplished.
Not just you. Anyone can make bad decisions when they’re stressed.
She needed to figure herself out. Most of the time, practically all the time, people can do that right at home. I’m sure that’s what all of you are going to do. But every once in a while, someone can’t manage to do that at home. So they go away.
We need to be sure not to confuse marching forward with forgetting.
Sisters One, Two, Three is a tragic yet beautiful story of a how a family faced and survived a dark chapter of their lives and how the lies they told and secrets they tried to keep came back chasing after them decades later, forcing them to confront the truth and finally, truly move on.
***I received a free e-ARC of the book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchanged for an honest review. This did not affect my review and opinions in any way.