Having unexpectedly lost her husband and lacking the means to support herself, Josie DiSanti and her two daughters take refuge in the small town of Mill River, to live with Josie's aunt, Ivy. The sisters, Rose and Emily, are inseparable growing up - until a shocking tragedy tears them apart.
Years later, Rose and Emily return to Mill River for the reading of their mother's will, where they learn that Josie would do anything to force their reconciliation: the sisters must move into neighbouring houses for the summer and work together to locate the key to Josie's safe deposit box, which contains their inheritance. And so, left with no choice, Rose and Emily reluctantly begin their search. But in a place known for its magic and miracles, little do they know that an even greater treasure awaits them . . .
After reading the blurb for Darcie Chan's second novel, I knew I had to read it. I love small town America as a backdrop for fiction and despite the fact that I haven't read her début novel I got cracking with it as soon as I received my advance copy from Little, Brown Book Group. And as it turns out, it doesn't really matter whether you've read the first book in the series or not as the books can be read as stand alone novels. They're simply set in the same town and feature some of the same characters. Which I think is a pretty cool idea.
Darcie Chan has a real talent for capturing the essence of Mill River. A quick Google search revealed that while the river the town is named for is real, the town itself is fictional. This surprised me as while reading the novel I could imagine Mill River clearly in my mind thanks to the vibrant and detailed description of the town. I could see perfectly Ivy's quaint little store The Bookstop with its overflowing bookcases and brightly coloured beanbags. And it was just as easy to picture the towns inhabitants. Rose and Emily were particularly clear in my mind, along with Ivy who sort of reminded me of my own Great Aunt who was a prominent figure in my childhood.
The novel opens in December 1983 with Josie DiSanti's arrival in Mill River, her two young daughters in tow to begin a new life. It's obvious she's running from something more than her husband's tragic death but she's determined to keep it locked away, to keep her girls safe from the truth. It's a great opening, sucking the reader into the story straight away while still giving us enough information to begin to care for Josie and her daughters.
Interestingly, we are then thrust forward in time to 2013. Rose and Emily are now adults and it's the day of Josie's wake. The sisters are no longer on speaking terms, their hostility towards each other so strong that they can barely be in the same room without chaos erupting. But their mother intervenes from beyond the grave. The reading of her will reveals her plan to bring the estranged sisters back together. They're going to have to learn to tolerate each other and work together if they have any hopes of inheriting their mothers estate.
It's not an easy ride for either sister and over the course of the summer they're forced to face and examine some uncomfortable emotions, deal with the past and the tragic incident that tore them apart and grow as individuals.
This novel gripped me from start to finish. The writing was exquisite and the characters were realistic, 3D people that jumped off the page and walked around in my mind. The structure of the novel brought a lot to the story. Having chapters alternate between the past and the present meant that the reasons for the behaviour of Rose and Emily was slowly revealed. I seriously didn't like the adult Rose in the beginning but as her past was unveiled I began to develop some sympathy towards her, an understanding of her character flaws. And that's something I really love in fiction - when a writer is talented enough to make their characters flawed. It's the secret to real characters, to making a character believable enough that their experiences represent and mirror real life.
I loved this book, I really did. And what's great is that it's not the kind of thing that I would usually choose for myself in a bookstore. I've been trying to make more of an effort to broaden my literary tastes and on this occasion it definitely paid off. Darcie Chan is definitely a writer to keep an eye on. With her self-published début novel becoming a New York Times bestseller in a matter of months, she was quickly picked up by Random House in the US and signed to write a further two novels. That's the kind of dream so many writers hold onto. I'll definitely be getting my hands on a copy of her first novel at some point in the near future and will be watching out for any future publications.
If you like the sound of it, the kindle version is available now.