LIKE A SISTER by Janice Daugharty


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The prolific Daugharty (Whistle, 1998, etc.) has quietly become one of the most original chroniclers of dysfunctional southern families. Her latest traces the efforts of an adolescent girl to distance herself from the self-destructive, yet alluring behavior of her feckless mother. Athena Kaye, known to everyone as Sister, is 13 years old, and exhausted. She has been dragged across the rural South by her restless, chaotic mother, Marnie, who has a habit of taking off town at night, “dodging wives and debts,” and leaving behind “lusting men and short-handed employers.” Sister struggles to tend to her younger twin brothers and to her baby sister, but the job is increasingly too much for her. The family has come to rest most recently in the small town of Cornerville, where Marnie’s latest boyfriend—the aptly named Sade—augments his juke-joint income by charging the locals for Marnie’s favors. Despite her mother’s long history of irresponsibility, Sister isn’t prepared for Marnie’s eventual flight from the abusive Sade, leaving her children behind. Now Sister must try to fend off both the locals who want to break up the family and Ray Williams, a randy politician who follows Sister around. The family is separated, and Williams breaks into the house where Sister has taken shelter, then rapes her. When he returns the next day, she kills him and, with the aid of a quiet, caring neighbor, Willa Lamar, hides the body. Willa’s unselfish act changes Sister’s view of the harsh world she’s grown up in—and dissipates her longing for a reunion with her mother. When Marnie finally does show up, she finds a much altered young woman. The tale’s outline may be unsurprising, but Daugharty, as usual, invests the story with considerable inventiveness, as well as a tough-minded morality. Her resilient characters have an idiosyncratic and convincing reality. A spare, strong addition to Daugharty’s portraits of loss and redemption.

Pub Date: Dec. 17th, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-019360-3
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1999


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