I’ve read many of Jane Green’s previous novels, and The Sunshine Sisters (Berkley Books, June 6, 2017) is a standout. All of the characters are sympathetic and their motivations believable, even if I don’t always agree with their choices. The Sunshine sisters, Nell, Meredith and Lizzy, grow up with a narcissistic, emotionally abusive mother. A famous actress, Ronni Sunshine always places her interests above those of her daughters, and she is prone to bursts of unpredictable anger. When “the veil” covers Ronni’s face, her daughters know to steer clear of her at all costs.
After high school, the sisters all flee their Westport childhood home and try to forge lives for themselves, but they all carry emotional scars from their mother. Nell feels more comfortable with animals than people, rarely leaving the farm she works at in nearby Easton. She has trouble sharing her feelings and forming genuine relationships. Meredith moves to England and still has trouble shaking the insecurities her mother instilled in her, constantly telling herself she’s not thin enough, pretty enough or talented enough. Lizzy, the overindulged baby, is much like her mother—beautiful, but selfish and self-centered. A successful celebrity chef, she remains immature, indulging her desires without considering how her choices will affect those closest to her. As the years pass, the sisters become more estranged from their mother, and from each other, as they continue to nurse their emotional wounds.
When Ronni is diagnosed with a terminal illness, she plans to end her life rather than suffer through a horrible and inevitable decline. She calls her daughters home to her side so she can explain her decision, apologize for the mistakes she’s made, and help her daughters reconnect with each other before her death. When they arrive home, the sisters each take an emotional journey, their mother’s illness the impetus for them to examine the state of their relationships, careers, and internal lives. Though some of the subplots are predictable, I didn’t mind because the ride is enjoyable and the characters engaging. A resident of neighboring Weston, CT, I smiled when I read the descriptions of familiar Westport landmarks, both past and present: The Remarkable Book Shop, Longshore Country Club, Bar Taco, and Compo Mill Cove, to name a few. The sisters each evaluate what is truly important to them and what will bring meaning to the rest of their lives. As each of their stories is brought to a satisfying close, I was left with warm feelings for all of them and with a sense of optimism for their futures.