Book Review: The Moon Sisters, by Therese Walsh

Therese Walsh’s second novel, The Moon Sisters, is a story about hopes and dreams, grief and loss. It is about the push and pull of family. It is ultimately about the contentious, but loving relationship between two sisters as they struggle to come to grips with their mother’s untimely death.

Jazz, the older sister, is in her early 20s. She is practical, focused on the future and sober-eyed. Olivia is four years younger. She is creative and high-spirited, a dreamer who suffers from synesthesia, a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sense leads to involuntary experiences in a second sense. Olivia can “smell sights (Papa was the fresh mown grass, the sun was Mama) or taste words…” The sisters’ fragile relationship is tested when Olivia embarks on a journey across their home state of West Virginia to fulfill her mother’s wish to see ghost lights at a cranberry bog, the key to writing a scene in her mother’s unfinished novel. Doubting Olivia can make the trip alone (she is legally blind from staring at the sun after her mother’s death) Jazz decides to drive them in her grandmother’s van. The van breaks down and ends up in a repair shop. Olivia decides impulsively to board a freight car with an odd assortment of train hoppers. Unknown to her, Jazz leaps aboard the train at the last second, clinging to a ladder for hours.

Fleeing the train at the next stop, the sisters are reunited. Jazz is furious with Olivia as her younger sister is determined to complete the long journey on foot. Jazz’s anger boils when she learns Olivia is in love with a mysterious, tattooed train hopper who calls himself Hobbs.

Walsh, co-founder of the popular writing blog, Writer Unboxed, writes each chapter in the voice of the two main characters, alternating between the distinct and different voices of Olivia and Jazz. The book is organized into five sections covering the five stages of grief.

Interspersed throughout the text are letters from their mother to her estranged father, who disowned her when she became pregnant with Jazz out of wedlock. The letters serve to give a sweet and spectral voice to Beth, the sisters’ mother.

Olivia’s quest is to find closure, but the long journey forces the sisters to confront their own hopes and dreams and in the process they learn about themselves and their relationship mends.

Walsh writes beautifully in vivid, lush prose. This long-awaited novel is a real treat.

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