“The Sunshine Sisters” by: Jane Green

I always find books that thread and weave together throughout the characters’ lives and how they grow to be fascinating. It is nice to read a novel with forward motion.

The book opens with Ronni and her three grown daughters at the tail end of Ronni’s life. She is in pain and wanting to end her own life.

Then we are taken back toward the early days of Ronni’s career as a B-movie Hollywood actress. We see her life and choices and realize she is very self-absorbed and not a great mother. We are shown the lives of her daughters- Nell, the eldest, Meredith, the middle child, and Lizzy, the youngest. We see the way they all react to their Monthers tantrums: Nell withdraws, Meredith tries to appease, and Lizzy makes light and refuses to find the situation serious.

The characteristics and ramifications of their upbringing make themselves known as the girls mature.

Nell falls in love early and has a son by her high school sweetheart. She then moves to a farm where she works and raises her son; the owner of the farm seeing Nell as if she were her own daughter.

Meredith has weight problems and buries her feelings with food until she can’t feel anything anymore and then eventually goes through a weight loss diet ending up with her having a one night stand with her sleezy art teacher that makes her feel bad all over again.

Lizzy after going through a rough start as a rebellious teen recovers and makes her way toward a career as a chef with her own featured TV show and everything.

The sisters get in contact with each other sporadically, not enough communication occurs but plenty of hurt feelings do occur with each lady not being able to fully express their reasoning to the other.

Their mother, Ronni, after years of complaining about dizzy spells and feeling weak becomes bedridden after awhile. Her daughters are confused because for years upon years she would claim illnesses for the attention. The drama of it all.

Ronni continues to chase her youth, trying to make herself look as young and beautiful as she once did but then she discovers she has ALS at the age of 65. Not wanting to wait for the disease to progress and make her deteriorate even more, she agrees to an interview with a reporter/documentary filmer.

Ronni tells him of her plans to take her own life and he latches onto a story he can run with.

After her daughters are all called home, she explains to them that she is “waiting for the results” even though she already knows her diagnosis. She wants her daughters to reconnect and be able to lean on each other once she is gone. After a lot of squirreling away of her pain medicine, Ronni estimates she can push her daughters to become close by proximity. She invites them to stay the week it will take to “get the results” and says maybe two weeks. Each woman makes the decision to stay and after Ronni goes to lay down the daughters all discuss that they think this time their mother really isn’t faking.

Every character motivation is explained and described so you as the reader can easily understand why the characters went in the direction they did; even if you yourself wouldn’t make the sane decisions in their shoes.

I noticed a very odd running theme all throughout the first half of the book. Many of the characters either had affairs or they themselves were cheated on. It just seemed like an odd common thread in the lives of such a vast majority of the characters. I am not sure if Ms. Green was trying to garner sympathy for those cheated on and understanding for the cheaters, but it just struck me as a bizarre element to keep adding in.

I also found it to be extra padding to tell and not show what was happening. There seemed to be a lot of repetition in storyline.

Overall, however, the details were nice additions and the story/plot clipped along at a nice pace.

The culinary aspects were lovely features; the food titles and dishes were (pardon the expression) extra icing on the cake.

For being a “beach read” I can happily note that it did not have a “bubblegum” feel to it. (What I mean by that is that the novel was written for mature women and not condescending to the audience. I have sadly come across a few “bubblegum” reads and they always sadden me because talking down to your target demographic is never a good thing.)

A smart, at times a little over emotional, well-rounded story of the love and affection between sisters as well as the bonds between family.

I feel like the author wanted to bring some awareness to Lou Gehrig’s disease in having her character have it. Stating the early signs of the disease-dizziness, nausea, falling, tingling, pins and needle feelings…and that all blood tests and results came back normal. I did a little bit of research on my own and yes those are the early symptoms and part of why ALS is often difficult to diagnose. Ms. Green did her homework here. It is scary to note that Ronni, the character, started exhibiting symptoms ten years(!) before finally being diagnosed.

It is sad to read about how ALS winds up just taking away everything. The ability to move from paralysis and the inability to breathe or eat unaided. Truly scary stuff.

I recall a few years back, as I’m sure many of you do, “The Ice Bucket Challenge”, sometimes called the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. If you didn’t know about this, it was is an activity involving the dumping of a bucket of ice and water over a person’s head, either by another person or self-administered, to promote awareness of the disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as motor neuron disease or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.) Donations were raised for further research. A common stipulation was that nominated participants, via social media tagging, had 24 hours to comply or forfeit by way of a charitable financial donation. Many participants did both.

I also loved that the relationships in this were varied and a more accurate portrayal of different lifestyles and choices. That read as true and came across well in the characterizations.

The sisters all come together and work out their various issues. Ronni does take her own life but before she does, she has conversations with each of her daughters and tells them the things she admired about them; the fact that she is very sorry for her mistakes.

Various parts felt a bit over-written, a little over-the-top, but the story as a whole worked very well.

It was a worth-while read and I would recommend it to anyone looking or a great story to sort of lose themselves in this summer.

Book Notes:

5.0%“Interesting set up in starting at the end and then going to Ronni at her “prime”.”

11.0%“Their own mother is the villain here. She isn’t a step mother, but their actual mother that never really wanted them in the first place. Not everyone should have children…because it is better to not have em if you don’t want them than to have them and treat them like garbage. :(“
 27.0%“This book is handling carrying varying perspectives quite well. Reading this let’s you understand where the characters are coming from and what they are dealing with in their lives as they grow, mature, make mistakes, argue, and (I am guessing eventually) come together.”
45.0%“Lots of affairs. Affairs everywhere!”
59.0%“Oh Nell, I have a sneaking suspicion about you…and it is very sweet if that turns out to be true. (Although a bit odd just because Nell’s son is dating Greta’s daughter…)”
I loved this exchange:

65.0% “Allowing ourselves to show our vulnerability is how we make human connections. If we’re not showing other people our true selves, our weaknesses and flaws, how can we ever allow ourselves to be known?”
“I’m not sure I’ve ever wanted to be known.”
“Then you’re missing out on ninety percent of what this life has to offer…I believe we were put on this earth to connect. Without it, life would be terribly lonely.”

Quick Facts:
Page Count: 384
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Berkley Books
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Beach-Read
Expected Publication Date: June 6, 2017

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