Book Review: The Whitsun Daughters by Carrie Mesrobian
“How quickly everything in the world disintegrates. Everything but the loneliness of young women.”
So begins The Whitsun Daughters, a story of three girls in a small Midwestern town, narrated by the ghost of a young Irish immigrant who, over a century earlier, lived and loved on the same small patch of farmland the girls and their mothers now call home.
Award-winning author Carrie Mesrobian weaves the story of the girls’ day-to-day struggles with the fractured and harrowing memories of their unseen observer. The threads of the tales are familiar: An arranged marriage. An impulsive proposal bitterly refused. Secret affairs. And pregnancies, both welcome and not. Each young woman fights her own lonely battle in the generations-long war of those who would no longer settle for haunting the margins of a world that wants to ignore them.
I really like when I come to expect a certain thing from an author (genre, voice, whatever) and they veer off into some new direction. Especially right now, in this world full of the most routine of all routines (shall we stay inside today or stay inside?), I appreciate this foray into something new.
Half of this book is exactly what I’ve come to expect from Mesrobian—relatively poor kids hanging out in Nowhere, Minnesota, swearing, fending for themselves, figuring out adolescence, stumbling, and surviving. But the other half takes us back in time and follows the life of Jane, a young Irish immigrant brought to Minnesota to be a farmer’s wife at just 15. We see her leave and lose everything she has, come to Minnesota, live in relative loneliness and unhappiness with her new husband and his sister, and find comfort and joy in another man on the farm. Eventually, we also hear her narrate her story and the story of her descendants after her life has ended.
The bulk of the modern storyline revolves around the pregnancy of one of the Whitsun daughters and a, as one of the girls calls it, “homemade abortion.” The three Whitsun girls, Poppy, Daisy, and Lilah, spend this time with two neighbor boys, Wade and Hugh, who provide unexpected (and relatively nonjudgmental) support and assistance during this quest to end the pregnancy. In the short period of time we spend with them, we see their already complicated relationship grow far more complicated than readers can predict. And, thanks to Jane’s ghostly narration, we see how their lives are stitched together with hers.
The contrast between the more formal, beautiful narration of Jane and the conversational, grittier view from the modern characters works well to separate the stories and showcases Mesrobian’s writing in new ways. Parallels between the women in each timeline come out as the novel goes on, revealing absent men and fathers, pregnancies, mental illness, lies, secrets, and an eternal loneliness.
A gorgeously layered look at love, loss, and the complex lives of girls. Not to be missed.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 08/25/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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