Wendy Willis Baldwin’s debut novel about varying degrees of family drama and its long-term effects proves that not only do all actions yield consequences, but sometimes even unexpected rewards. Many thanks to Sourcebooks Landmark for providing me with an ARC copy of The Sisters We Were so I can tell you all about it.
Though very different, the main characters of this book mirror each other in poetic, humorous and painful ways—much like siblings in the real world often do. One is overweight and seriously concerned for her health as well as her happiness, still lives on her mother’s property even though the woman herself is serving prison time, and seems to be perpetually stuck teetering at a crossroads, undecided and unsure. The other is a chronic runner, the kid who checks in at home out of obligation but simmers with a deep-rooted rage that she hardly notices in her day-to-day life anymore—until the day it boils over and sets off a chain of events that changes everything for the sisters. These qualities and character flaws are amplified by the trials and triumphs that Pearl and Ruby Crenshaw navigate throughout the book (sometimes clumsily, sometimes with a bit more finesse, in both present-day storytelling and flashbacks), and in such familiar ways that readers will find a safe space in which they can acknowledge and maybe even embrace one or two faults of their own.
The fact that the author’s own sister struggled with weight issues lent a particular brand of authenticity to The Sisters We Were, and specifically to Pearl’s character development throughout the plot’s more poignant twists and turns. Wendy and Tiffany even take the conversation straight to the audience on their podcast Life After Fat Pants, discussing everything from healthy habits to benefit the physical to edifying practices for one’s mental and emotional health. Add this firsthand experience in casting off weight of all shapes and sizes to the way Ruby relates to and interacts with her recuperating sister as well as her mother, and we get a rich dynamic of female characters that encompass key human experiences of generally disenchanted adult populations across the board.
Of course, the risk in writing this kind of emotional rollercoaster is that while there are moments of understanding and community between author and reader, there can also be miscommunication or even alienation. I have to admit that there were some points where I felt that the author’s focus on Pearl left much of Ruby’s and Birdie’s respective stories lacking somewhat; in this case, I’d probably look for a series to unfold, or at least a trilogy to reveal some of the elements I think we miss in this story as far as the main influences on Pearl are concerned. The book adopted a certain tone as well, one that I felt didn’t always match the intensity of the moment or the feelings of the other characters involved, but that spoke to Pearl’s relative innocence and overall reticent nature.
If heartfelt confessions, deeply personal epiphanies, and real-world battles with one’s demons are the kinds of stories you prefer, then The Sisters We Were may be the next book to add to your TBR pile. Acquaint yourself with the Crenshaws and remind yourself what it is to be angry, vulnerable and hopeful—sometimes all at once.