Martin delivers the first novel of a planned quartet, set to span four generations of daughters.
In a brief prologue, 100-year-old Abby muses about time’s swift passage and the kaleidoscopic aspect of memories—and secrets— recalled from the past. Readers meet Abby Nichols at age 8 in 1930. She’s big sister to Rose, good friend to Sarah and Orrin, and she’s already expert at navigating the moods of her domineering father, Luther, and emotionally fragile mother, Nell. Ensuing chapters cover 15 years. Luther builds a prosperous business, moving the family from their small Maine seaside cottage to a fancy house in a larger town. Servants, store-bought dresses and Zander, the appealing boy next door don’t dampen Abby’s longing for the authentic friendships of life before. Her academic and social successes are pummeled by tragedy: Beloved Sarah drowns in an icy pond, and Nell breaks after Luther secretly institutionalizes their developmentally disabled 5-year-old son. While outwardly obeisant to her bigoted father—who cruelly forbids friendships, jobs and college—Abby builds a capacity for compassion that sustains her siblings. Eventually—and critically—she learns to use it to nurture herself. In a 1945 epilogue, Abby’s a working girl in New York City—and Zander’s on her doorstep.
Some threads—whither Orrin?—are left dangling. But the deftly rendered theme of personal resilience, laced with romance and Americana, will earn this a deservedly wide audience. (Historical fiction. 8-12)