In the latest installment of this series following two very different stepsisters through the seasons, each brings unique gifts and deficits to the task of coping with tough life issues.
It’s Christmas, but holiday spirit is in short supply. A moment of anger gets Diana suspended from high school. Stephanie, who remembers her stepbrother Matt’s drunken threats when she overheard him bragging about stealing beer, dreads encountering him during the obligatory visit to her mother. Then Matt’s badly injured in a car accident, and Stephanie’s grandmother is hospitalized with pancreatitis. The family heads to the North Carolina shore to care for her home and beloved dog, Jelly. When Jelly takes a dislike to Diana, she’s devastated—her self-esteem is founded on her connection with animals—but discovering a beached pilot whale soon distracts her. Stephanie worries about Grammy Verra and feels guilty over wishing harm to Matt. Although both girls continue to seem younger than their stated ages, characterization remains a strong suit. Contrarian, courageous, empathy-challenged Diana struggles with a serious mood disorder. Compassionate, self-aware Stephanie is easily immobilized by anxiety.
Demonstrating that less is more and showing trumps telling, the plight of endangered species and the gentle, inclusive message that faith can be an anchor in troubled times are implied, not hammered home. (Fiction. 10-16)