This gorgeously written, insightful and affecting novel riffs in the best possible way on Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, focused on the enfolding and increasingly complicated lives of a tight-knit group of the four Padavano sisters.
The sisters grow in Chicago, with a rigid deeply religious Catholic Mom who seems to prefer her vegetable beds over her daughters and an admiring father who makes in with love what he fails to bring home in salary. Of the sisters, there’s Julia who energetically focuses on fixing everyone’s problems and enters college with the singular ambition for a more upwardly mobile middleclass life for herself. Sylvia’s a bookworm who works in the library while dreaming of being swept off her feet in a once-in-a-lifetime romance; Cecilia’s a free-spirited artist and feminist rebel who gets pregnant and kicked out of the house at age 17 and decides to raise her child herself. Her twin sister Emeline emanates love, kindness and acceptance and works in daycare. In flashbacks throughout the book, we learn the backstory of each sister.
Set in the 1970’s, the story opens with a romance between Julie as a freshman at Northeastern and William Waters, a basketball player from Boston. William marvels at the Julia, her sisters, and her family. But with a troubled past of parental rejection after the young loss of an older sister, William is fighting his own internal insecurities, anxiety, and depression.
Ultimately this leads to a rendering of the sister’s relationships, a struggle to find personal meaning by each sister, and a re-examination of what holds family together and what it takes for close siblings to repair relationship rifts.
Thanks to Random House Publishing Group and NetGalley for an advanced reader’s copy.