Addie and sister Wavey lost their parents at a young age. The older Wavey was taken in by their aunt and uncle but Addie, too young to help on the farm, was sent to an orphanage. When Wavey married, she and her husband sent for Addie to come and live with them and help with the baby that Wavey was expecting. Addie was thrilled to leave the orphanage and join her adored sister and new brother-in-law, Ty, but she soon discovers that life under the abusive and predatory Ty's roof is more nightmare than dream. Only her love for her sister and baby Mary brighten her days. When she makes a spur of the moment decision in defense of her sister, both their lives are shattered and Addie must flee. She's been aching for Wavey's forgiveness ever since. As she is aging and coming up on a time when her naked body is no longer a visual commodity for the colony, her future there is limited and uncertain. So Addie thinks that she will try to reconnect with her sister, in person this time, rather than simply sending more letters like those that have been marked return to sender throughout the years. If Wavey can forgive her, maybe Addie will have a future outside the colony after all. But reconciliation won't be easy and even after fifteen years as a nudist Addie is still learning to be comfortable in her own skin, to accept herself as she is, and to forgive herself. The question is whether Wavey can and will do the same.
Instead of Wavey, when Addie first goes to her sister's home, she encounters Mary, all grown-up, and another niece she didn't know about, Rumor. Once Rumor uncovers who the woman outside their house is, she is dogged in her determination to meet her aunt, despite her misgivings knowing that Addie is a nudist. The colony and those in it are considered an abomination and scandal by decent folk in San Diego and it will be a challenge for Rumor to see and talk to Addie as a result. Addie's re-appearance and Rumor's persistence in making a connection will bring all of the family secrets to the surface, will force Wavey and Addie to acknowledge the horror of the past, and will make them look the present squarely in the face. The truth will challenge what Mary and Rumor know about themselves and their family and is the only thing that can start to repair the damage done in so many lives fifteen years ago.
The narration is third person limited alternating from Addie's and Rumor's points of view. The chapters centered on Addie move backwards and forwards in time, giving the reader both flashes from the past, ultimately leading up to what caused the sisters to fall out and Addie to leave San Diego, and her present day situation in the fairgrounds nudist colony exhibit. Rumor's chapters are all from her present and clearly show her to be a rebellious and inquisitive teenager. The plot is set up to reveal the mystery of what happened in Wavey and Addie's past very slowly. In fact, the mystery is not really much of a mystery, easily guessed although circumstances around it are more complicated than the reader perhaps initially expects. As the two foci, Addie and Rumor are the best fleshed out characters and all others are seen through their eyes. Addie's character is engaging and sympathetic; it is clear she has suffered. Rumor is curious and loyal but can be as immature as would be expected of her age. Mary is a bit of a milk sop character; even though she's the older, she is definitely less adventurous and open-minded than her sister. Wavey is a strange dichotomy of a character. She's a neglectful mother at times, going out dancing and drinking nightly and spending days hungover and sleeping, and fiercely protective at other times. There is a large supporting cast of characters here and although they, with a few exceptions, are truly secondary, they are surprisingly three dimensional, not all good nor all bad. The story is one that starts off with a dark, hinted at secret but it grows even darker with rape, domestic abuse, violence, murder, and pedophilia all contained within it. The pacing is uneven, with the beginning drawn out slowly followed suddenly by major revelation after major revelation all coming on top of each other in the last quarter of the book. Even with this imbalance, the reader will push on, wanting to see how the need to protect those we love from harm plays out between both Addie and Wavey and Wavey and her daughters. It is a tale of estrangement, secrets, lives derailed, and the bonds between sisters. Those who like historical fiction will be fascinated by the setting and time of this novel and fans of family dynamics stories will find much to engage them as well.
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Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.