This novel is great for group discussions. Maynard has the skill to write about family issues right where it hurts. The story revolves around two girls who were born in the same town, on the same night and in the same hospital. They happen to be neighbours and are forever known as the “Birthday Sisters”.
The chapters alternate between the views of Ruth Plank and Dana Dickerson—from their memories when they are kids, to the present day of being seniors. The book’s setting is mostly in New England (with a snippet of Vancouver) during the 1950’s till today. Ruth is the youngest daughter of Connie and Edwin Plank (who is a strawberry farmer). Dana is the second child of Val and George Dickerson.
Both families see each other over the years fleetingly—as if there really is another reason to get together (besides the fact that Ruth and Dana share the same birth date). That reason starts becoming clear, once Ruth has a passionate relationship with Dana’s brother, Ray. Throughout the story, both Ruth and Dana struggle to be “good daughters” because the relationship they have with their mothers is not a close one. However, Edwin Plank seems to revere both girls, and we eventually find out the reson for this.
Father-daughter relationships are explored, as well as same sex ones (Dana is a lesbian), and the tragedy of terminal illness. This book plays with your mind and your heart. It is a tear-jerker read, yet it also succeeds in giving you hope and leaving you with an optimistic feeling. I would say it is a good Fall title.
When I read this novel it brought to mind Lisa See’s book, Dreams of Joy. The way the chapters alternate between Joy and Pearl’s voices reminds me of how Ruth and Dana give us their point of view within the differing chapters. Also, there is the whole focus in each book about farming (whether in China or New England). Even the time period is about the same.
If you have read The Good Daughters, what were your feelings? Have you read any other stuff by Maynard?
Next month I will be discussing The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. Hope you will be able to get some leisurely reading done during the holidays!