Thursday, July 27, 2017

“The Almost Sisters” by Joshilyn Jackson – The Racist Charm of the South

Joshilyn Jackson Ventures to the Middle of Nowhere


The Southern United States, though plastered with stereotypes and generalizations, is a complicated and unique enough place on this Earth with its own sort of internal system that has remained the same throughout the years, even as one government took over after another. Joshilyn Jackson, like a few other authors, has used the South as a setting for her stories on more than one occasion, being perfect for family dramas and sagas because of the traditions found in it. In The Almost Sisters she takes us into a little town located in Alabama, one that personifies what that part of the world is all about.

More precisely, the book begins as we are introduced to thirty-eight year-old Leia Birch Briggs, recently pregnant with a biracial baby from a one-night stand. Soon after she returns back to her little Alabama town and finds herself surrounded by her conservative family. As she steels herself to bring them the shocking news of her life developments, she gets upstaged by her half-sister whose marriage explodes for the whole world to see. Adding on to the misery, it comes to light in the most uncomfortable way possible that her ninety year-old grandmother has been hiding the fact that she has dementia for some time now. Finally, adding insult to injury, as she tries to settle her grandmother's affairs and cleans out the old family house that has stood there for generations Leia stumbles upon an old secret dating back to the Civil War, one with humongous implications for the family.

A Life of Misadventures


The Almost Sisters is one of those novels that would be difficult to classify in a single category, sprawling into numerous genres at once and borrowing from them whenever necessary. There is a healthy combination of drama, romance, social issues, humour, tragedy, and general meditations on human life.

As a character, Leia herself embodies this approach, making for a very interesting and flawed narrator with layers upon layers of complexities, and as each one is peeled back we come to see her more and more as a real person; I would be surprised if she wasn't based on someone specific for the amount of believable details we get about her nerdy life and dorky aspirations. Seeing her go from one misadventure to the next and the horrible timing with which it all takes place is a real pleasure, and as she grows on you she'll start to feel more like a friend than a book character.

Speaking of the cast, the rest of the people we meet here are, for the most part, no less interesting than Leia herself. Her grandmother is a real riot of laughter both because and in spite of her condition, her best friend Wattie is always up to something (the Birchie and Wattie moments are some of the best), and all the smaller people we encounter along the way have something unique to add to this journey.



When the Laughter Ends


While this book definitely has its fair share of comedy and quirky mishaps, there is also a more serious side to the coin, one that reminds us of grim realities and pushes us to ponder on the current state of affairs we seem hell-bent on ignoring. As you might know, racism is not only a big issue in the Southern US, but it's one that has been growing in size and explosive potential over the last few years, threatening to eventually create a schism in the country. Jackson doesn't ignore that for one bit and on many occasions we get a front row seat to racist thoughts and actions, analyzing and processing them from different perspectives. Thankfully, the author doesn't make it over-the-top and that helps give it a realistic and believable feeling.

In addition to racism the book has a few other major themes worth mentioning, and they mostly revolve around family, loyalty, trust, honesty, as well as the power and importance of secrets. As Leia digs deeper and deeper into the mystery her grandmother buried she also comes to share the many lessons her family has learned through the years, as well as adding her own experience to the mix. All of this makes for welcome pauses from the comedy, establishing a pleasant rhythm that is maintained throughout the entire story.

Some Final Words


To cap it all off, The Almost Sisters is what one may call a successful novel, delivering on every front it sets out to conquer. There are tears, laughs, and long introspective sessions to be had with this novel, presenting a world and a story that feel as real as your own life. If you enjoy stories about family secrets and want a solid book that will make you feel and think like few others in the genre then I recommend you add it to your collection.

Joshilyn Jackson (27, 1968)


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Joshilyn Jackson is an American author who made her entrance onto the literary stage not too long ago but has managed to gain some traction with lauded novels such as The Opposite of Everyone, Gods in Alabama, and more recently, The Almost Sisters.

More of the Joshilyn Jackson's book reviews:
Someone Else’s Love Story

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