Eustacia Cleary is 35 years old when she wakes up to a phone call from her father. This would not be remarkable except for the fact that the brilliant and cold Wilson Cleary left his family, Taisy, her twin brother Marcus, and their mother, for another woman 17 years prior and has had very little contact with his children ever since, all by his own choice. He's called to tell her he's had a heart attack and to ask her to move into his home with his artistic but seemingly spacey wife, Caro, their 16 year old daughter, Willow, and him so that Taisy can write his life story. Because Taisy makes her living as a very successful ghost writer. Although he couches it in non-emotional terms, Taisy can't resist him, the father whose withheld approval she's ached for her whole life.
But if Wilson has his own reasons for wanting Taisy around, and Caro is perfectly accepting of her stepdaughter's presence, Willow, the doted on, adored, precious daughter, isn't so sure she wants to share her beloved father or the title of daughter. Her world has come crashing down on her since her father's heart attack. Homeschooled by Wilson using an incredibly reductive curriculum of his own design and isolated from other kids her age because of his belief that she is too smart and special for them, Willow is a strange mix of highly intelligent and socially innocent, something that doesn't serve her well when she is enrolled in a local private school while Wilson recuperates. On top of having to navigate the unfamiliar channels of school for the first time, she has to cope with her suspicion over Taisy's sudden and unwanted presence in her life, her fears that her father won't recover, and the fear that she could ever lose his love and approval, something that she is certain has happened to Taisy.
This novel is really about Taisy and Willow coming together, to know each other and to learn what it means to be the others' sister. Each of them have experienced such different families because of Wilson's enormous difference within those families but they still have a lot to teach each other about learning to let go and be happy on their own terms. Even though Taisy has given up everything for her father, she must get past her craving for his approval or she will not be able to reclaim the love she once turned her back on for him. Taisy is an interesting character and her evolution from the young woman so hurt by her father's inexplicable outright rejection to a confident, determined woman who can defy his wishes and dig into his hidden past as a means to understand and forgive him in the present despite the years of happiness he's cost her is a slow and believable one. Willow's character is rather bratty but she's a threatened teenager even if she is certain of being loved. Her complete lack of street smarts and inability to sense danger is frustrating and her hostility to Taisy makes the reader want to shake her. But she's generally a believable, if appallingly naïve, sixteen year old under a lot of stress.
The novel's narrative switches back and forth between first person accounts from Taisy and Willow so the reader is always certain where their respective mental states are. Their voices are incredibly different and easily distinguishable and the gradual change each undergoes, not only with regard to the other but also in terms of their views of the secondary characters, is well detailed. The secondary characters, including acerbic Marcus, flaky but perhaps ultimately triumphant Caro, wary Ben, intense and honest Luka, and flamboyant Trillium come across as charmingly quirky if not always fully developed. The writing is lovely and the emotion is true and deeply felt. This is a warm, touching, and insightful look at learning to live and love for yourself and to find the value in family, both the one you are born into and the one that you create around yourself.
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Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.