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The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth

Release date: April 13, 2021 (I KNOW, I KNOW…sooo far in the future. But it’s really good and worth the preorder/wait, you guys!!!)

 ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ 

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: The Good Sister was written by bestselling author Sally Hepworth (known recently for her hit The Mother-in-Law, published in 2019). It’s set for release in April 2021, by St. Martin’s Press. The Good Sister is a mystery/thriller about a pair of twins whose lives are so incredibly intertwined that it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins…and how that closeness – and the secrets kept between sisters – can be both life-saving and absolutely deadly.

PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: Rose and Fern are fraternal twins with an incredibly close bond and a tragic history. Their mother overdosed when they were 12, resulting in their placement into foster care. Told through Rose’s reflective journal entries and Fern’s current-day circumstances, we learn the details of their tragic childhood and how the sisters still remain close to this day. 

Rose takes it upon herself to be the protective twin; she is diabetic and has spent her life taking care of her sister, even taking the blame when their volatile mother was looking for a target. Fern has social anxiety and sensory processing issues; she is likely on the autism spectrum but was never diagnosed, and lives a life of regimented schedules and predictable activities, which she finds calming. Fern spends most of her days working as a librarian, which is her dream job; she is incredibly happy with her life and her work commute, just a quick and calming walk from her flat. Rose’s life, however, is beginning to pull at the seams. Her husband Owen has run off to London, and she is attempting to win him back; we learn that Rose believes he left because she suddenly decided she wanted children, eventually pushing him away with her zealousness. 

It’s absolutely as much a book about finding yourself and learning the importance of opening yourself up to love, as it is a book about murder and betrayal.”

When Fern learns about her sister’s troubles, she begins to brainstorm all of the ways she could help Rose achieve her dreams and get the life Fern thinks she truly deserves. After all, Rose has kept Fern’s secrets for years, and helped her clean up her messes – and some of the things in their past are, well…truly dark. Too horrific to tell someone outside of their sisterly bond. But at the same time, a new man walks into Fern’s life, and she is given the chance at a new form of happiness she didn’t realize was possible.

When their pasts and present collide – and when the only other witness to the twins’ most horrific secret starts to talk again – Fern must decide what the future holds for her. Which of the people in her life is looking out for HER best interests, and who is determined to wreck her future for the happiness of their own? Her choice may have deadly consequences, and it’ll be the most important decision she’ll ever make.

MY THOUGHTS: This was my first read by Hepworth (despite the fact that I’ve had The Mother-in-Law on my TBR shelf since last year……oops), and I found this book very enjoyable. I would absolutely read more books by this author, and it’s honestly moved The Mother-in-Law up on my (neverending) list of books to read soon. 

It’s technically a mystery/thriller, but I would consider it more of a psychological suspense novel that explores family bonds – the tightest, one might say, being that of twins – and the boundaries of individualism and self. (Fern ruminates at one point, “Maybe when it comes to sisters, boundaries are always a little blurry. Blurred boundaries, I think, are what sisters do best.” ) It also reflects on how our best-laid plans in life may not have room for what will truly make us happy, and we may have to learn to be more flexible than we’re typically willing to be.

Fern was an incredibly written character, and one of my favorite recent literary protagonists; seeing the world through her eyes as someone on the autism spectrum was both eye-opening and educational. We see duality not just in the twins, but in Fern herself: her flaws and her strengths, her weaknesses and her coping mechanisms. She may seem rigid about her routine, and adamant about refusing to learn the library’s technical side…but we also see her softness at the hands of Rose and the children who visit the library.

This book examines the price that is often exacted at the hands of systemic abuse and mental manipulation. The plot becomes tense as the reader realizes the terrible situation Fern is in long before Fern does – but it’s a very quick read with an ending that ties up all the loose ends. It’s absolutely as much a book about finding yourself and learning the importance of opening yourself up to love, as it is a book about murder and betrayal. 

Readers will bond with Fern immediately and really root that she can come out of this awful situation with the happiness she desperately deserves. Seeing her journey in learning to trust herself – and trust that she has made good decisions and can live a good life with people who truly care for her – is a very satisfying one.