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WHILE MY SISTER SLEEPS by Barbara Delinsky

WHILE MY SISTER SLEEPS

By Barbara Delinsky

Pub Date: Feb. 17th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-385-52492-6
Publisher: Doubleday

Delinsky (The Secret Between Us, 2008, etc.), mining the same emotional field as Jodi Picoult, stumbles in this slow-moving account of two sisters, one of whom is in a coma.

The Snow family defines itself thus: They are the family of a runner. Robin is a marathoner of Olympic potential (the tryouts are soon) and much of her adult life has been working toward this moment. She is the star, and her mother Kathryn and sister Molly have devoted a good portion of their lives to making Robin’s easier. Though Molly experiences intense bouts of jealousy and sadness that Robin is so clearly the favorite daughter, she nonetheless adores her older sister. One evening there is a call from the hospital to the house Molly and Robin share. The news is dire. At the hospital Molly finds Robin unconscious from a heart attack. A fellow runner found her cold body on the road, administered CPR and called an ambulance, but his act of kindness has inadvertently caused the Snow family’s most heartbreaking dilemma. Tests show that Robin is brain-dead, but Kathryn refuses to accept that her daughter, a lifelong fighter, is defeated. Molly too is crushed, but instead of a bedside vigil, she wants answers. She finds Robin’s journal and soon all secrets are revealed: Robin was diagnosed with an enlarged heart, which she inherited from her real father (Kathryn was pregnant when she met Charlie, but he raised her as his own). There are a number of subplots: Molly begins to develop a relationship with David, the runner who found Robin; David, a high-school teacher, suspects one of his students is anorexic; brother Chris is being blackmailed by an employee Molly fired from the family’s nursery. Yet none of this is able to spark the narrative to life—a week of tears and hard decisions about organ donation and ending life support is certainly emotionally fertile, but in Delinsky’s hands it feels overwrought and predictable.

The novel’s foregone conclusion does little to help a narrow plotline to expand.