Email this review


White sisters in 1950s Mississippi lose their mother to a botched abortion and spend the next several decades struggling to navigate their own fraught relationship.

Grace and June McAlister live in Opelika, Mississippi, where their father is an accountant for the lumber mill and their mother stays home to look after the family. The girls don’t know that their mother, Olivia, always wanted to be more than a wife and mother. When Olivia discovers she’s pregnant again, she visits a local abortionist whose shoddy technique causes her irreparable physical damage. After Olivia confesses to her husband, Holly, what she’s done, he takes the girls to see the giraffes at the nearby zoo. During the time they spend looking at animals, Olivia bleeds out and dies at home. As Holly grieves his wife, he becomes obsessed with protecting his daughters. Instead of tending to their meals or hygiene, though, he spends all his time in the backyard, digging a bomb shelter. After a few years of Holly’s subpar supervision, Grace ends up a pregnant teenager. When her sister, June, discovers the pregnancy, she immediately tells Holly, and he sends Grace to a home for pregnant girls where she can wait out the pregnancy and put the baby up for adoption. Grace blames June for several unfortunate events that follow, and their strife continues for decades thereafter. Every time the sisters attempt to move beyond the mistakes of their shared past, something new seems to get in their way. An important story about women’s reproductive rights and the consequences of limited choices, the novel will transport readers to the rural Mississippi of a bygone era. The prose is teeming with beautifully vivid portraits of local birds and vegetation as well as evocative descriptions of contemporary foods, homemade liquor, and weekday dinners. Told from the perspectives of multiple characters, including the sisters, their parents, and Ed Mae Johnson, an African American nurse from the orphanage, the story offers unique and insightful perspectives on family, race, forgiveness, and personal agency.

An artfully crafted tale that explores how restrictions on women’s choices impacted female relationships in mid-20th-century America.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-06-247175-8
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2019