In Sisters of Heart and Snow, award-winning author Margaret Dilloway has written a novel not just about sisters but about how family relationships and dynamics shape us as adults. Normal families are a myth that U.S. society works very hard to perpetuate. All families are quirky and dysfunctional to some extent – it’s just a matter of degrees. My favorite thing to say is that even Ozzie & Harriet weren’t the Ozzie and Harriet people saw as the perfect 1950’s family on TV. Becoming conscious of and coming to terms with how our family dysfunction operates lets us move beyond that and, hopefully, not repeat those patterns in our own families. That is the struggle the sisters in Sisters of Heart and Snow face. How they deal with their family history, and each other, makes for a captivating read!
“People in my family are pathologically incapable of asking anyone for help. It’s probably the only tradition we have. Call it pride or stubbornness or fear of rejection, even – each of us is our own island. No matter what anybody’s going through, we pretend everything’s fine, just fine, thanks for asking, and we soldier on.”
Rachel and Drew are about as different as sisters can be but then so are their parents. Their mom was a mail-order bride from Japan who came to the U.S. and married their American dad without ever knowing him at all. As for their dad? He is rigid, judgmental, a perfectionist, and unforgiving. He ruled their house with an iron will and had them all cowed, especially their mom. She retreated to a sewing room and spent her life making quilts to escape having to deal with him or her daughters. She was, in many ways, a stranger to her daughters.
Rachel was the child who spoke up and would not be silenced. There’s always one child in a dysfunctional family who rails against the dysfunction and makes waves. Rachel was that child. She was a natural athlete, who excelled at swimming. As long as she won her swim meets, her dad was proud of her; however, the minute she stopped winning, he turned on her. Then he kicked her out of the house. And she never went back. Luckily for her, a friend’s family took her in and gave her some semblance of how a far less dysfunctional family interacted. That helped Rachel immensely. She went on to marry a wonderful man and raise a family of her own. Still, part of her was forever insecure because of her upbringing. She could never understand how their mother could abandon them to their father’s rages or how he could suddenly turn on her and abandon her by kicking her out onto the street.
Drew was the younger daughter, who watched the mistakes her older sister made and learned subliminally how to survive in their family by doing the opposite of what her sister did. She never forgave Rachel for abandoning her to her father’s bad temper once Rachel left home. She could not understand why Rachel didn’t come back or try to support her more. Drew also never understood either of their parents but she formed very different opinions from Rachel’s about the dynamics that operated in their family.
The bottom line is that everyone in this family became estranged from everyone else. They could not bear to be in each other’s company at all, and each had become the very kind of isolated island described in the quote at the beginning of this synopsis.
And then Rachel’s and Drew’s mother becomes terminally ill. Luckily, she was smart enough and had enough self-preservation to appoint Rachel as her medical power of attorney. Unluckily, that makes her husband beyond livid because it means he has no control over her care, or more to the point what he would like to have be her lack of care. His plan? To basically throw her away like a discarded piece of clothing that literally no longer serves him. And to ensure he gets his way, his plan is to make Rachel’s life a legal living hell because he will spare no expense to legally wrest control away from her.
Can these two sisters reconcile at least enough to help their dying mother? Can they resolve their issues with their mother and discover why she behaved the way she did? Will their father ever allow them to make peace with him – and will either of them even want to do that, given how he mistreated them and their mother? Bottom line: Will these two very different women find the key to let them unlock the basis for their family dysfunction so they no longer have to repeat any of those patterns?
I can see why Margaret Dilloway is an award-winning author. Sisters of Heart and Snow is a fascinating psychological study of family dynamics; however, it’s an even more fascinating story about two very different sisters. It also has a historical Japanese thread that I’m not going to disclose because it will provide too many spoilers. I was blown away by this story and actually read it in one sitting – even though I could hear the dust bunnies and dirty dishes rejoicing at my lack of attention to them. Yes, it was that good and that engrossing. I highly recommend it!
Want to see where this author works? Watch the informal “Author in PJs” video clip below.
Can’t wait to read it?
Sisters of Heart and Snow was published on April 7, 2015, so it’s available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). If you download it as an e-book, you’ll have it to read immediately!
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