The Sullivan Sisters by Kathryn Ormsbee
Time changes things.
That painful fact of life couldn’t be truer for the Sullivan sisters. Once, they used to be close, sharing secrets inside homemade blanket castles. Now, life in the Sullivan house means closed doors and secrets left untold.
Fourteen-year-old Murphy, an aspiring magician, is shocked by the death of Siegfried, her pet turtle. Seventeen-year-old Claire is bound for better things than her Oregonian hometown—until she receives a crushing rejection from her dream college. And eighteen-year-old Eileen is nursing a growing addiction in the wake of life-altering news.
Then, days before Christmas, a letter arrives, informing the sisters of a dead uncle and an inheritance they knew nothing about. The news forces them to band together in the face of a sinister family mystery…and, possibly, murder.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED JUNE 23RD, 2020
A dead turtle right before Christmas doesn’t seem like it belongs in an inheritance story, but here we are.
It sounds a little outlandish for a contemporary mystery, but yes, a pet turtle does die only days before Christmas, and yes, his death is a catalyst. You see, the Sullivan sisters used to be close. These days, though, they’re lucky if they look at one another without fighting.
But when Siegfried kicks the bucket, an inheritance lands in the sisters’ laps, and a midnight road trip goes off the rails, everything is bound to change. Everything.
The charm of The Sullivan Sisters lies in absurdity meeting the mundane.
At first, the idea of all these major events colliding around Christmas, capped with the sisters’ mom winning a sweepstakes cruise and leaving for the holiday, struck me as far too much. But then again, I don’t often dive into contemporaries. Why not stick around and see how it shakes out? Maybe this is normal as far as contemporaries go.
And to tell the truth? I still don’t know if all this qualifies as normal. That said, it absolutely counts as engaging! From the start, I found myself hooked on the sisters’ POVs. Each one has a unique, forceful voice that leaves no doubt as to who’s behind the wheel for each scene, and despite their flaws, I came to love them all.
Murphy, I think, is the most endearing. The youngest sister, she can be a little annoying, but that’s what youngest siblings do. What’s more important is that she’s the catalyst behind the change the Sullivan sisters have to face. Sure, outside factors kickstarted their journey, but it’s Murphy that lies at the heart of it, keeping the wheels spinning.
Claire, the second sister, was actually my least favorite, but I suspect that’s an intentional choice on Kathryn Ormsbee’s part. After a rejection from her dream college, she spirals a little, desperate to regain control over the direction of her life. Regaining control, though, involves her pushing her sisters to the side, and looking down her nose at them. It makes for a great starting point in terms of her overall character arc, but also makes her the hardest sister to love.
And Eileen takes the cake for the most dramatic turnaround, in my eyes. Initially, she seems uncaring, even cold, and she’s an alcoholic in denial. Something she discovered two years ago turned her world upside down, and she withdrew as a result, cutting everyone off. But her growth over the course of the book struck me as truly heartfelt, and even if Murphy was the most endearing, Eileen was the most complicated.
The list of where The Sullivan Sisters falls short is, well, short.
Really, there were two major areas where I felt something was lacking. The first was the way Claire’s queerness was handled. She’s gay, self-professed, and while I love seeing more queer characters in books, that fact felt like a surface fact. On the one hand, queer characters don’t require romances to be queer. I feel so, so strongly about that. It’s part of the reason I’m looking forward to Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power this year. But on the other, it feels like a shallow declaration sometimes. I can’t tell if I need another reread, more time to think on it, or if this gut feeling is right.
The other issue I had, which was truly the larger one, was the reliance on miscommunication. On years of miscommunication. I can see on one hand how that’s the core of the story. Whose family doesn’t miscommunicate? In the case of the Sullivan sisters, it’s pretty extreme, but hey, that’s fiction, the nature of the beast. On the other hand, though, if the sisters and their mother just communicated, so very much of the plot wouldn’t have happened. Hell, the sisters would have never gone on their road trip investigation if they’d simply waited to talk to their mother.
Then again, this is in a lot of ways a book about learning to reconnect when you have failed to communicate in the past. That’s not a lesson learned when you communicate well in the first place. As a thematic element, it works quite well. It’s just that I’m personally never fond of miscommunication in such a critical role in a book.
Maybe you won’t inherit a rich uncle’s estate, but you might as well join the Sullivan sisters when they inherit theirs!
Originally scheduled for a May release, The Sullivan Sisters is now due June 23rd. That leaves plenty of time to place a pre-order, if you’re so inclined, or request it from your local library. I place it solidly in the enjoyable category, worth a read at least once, and I hope you come to feel the same way. It may not be a book to rave about until the end of time, but it’s still one to watch, one to take time to think about.
CW: loss of a loved one, alcoholism, animal death, gun violence mention, implied domestic abuse, suicide