Published by Berkley Books on June 6th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Source: First to Read
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Goodreads Synopsis: The New York Times bestselling author of Falling presents a warm, wise, and wonderfully vivid novel about a mother who asks her three estranged daughters to come home to help her end her life.
Ronni Sunshine left London for Hollywood to become a beautiful, charismatic star of the silver screen. But at home, she was a narcissistic, disinterested mother who alienated her three daughters.
As soon as possible, tomboy Nell fled her mother’s overbearing presence to work on a farm and find her own way in the world as a single mother. The target of her mother s criticism, Meredith never felt good enough, thin enough, pretty enough. Her life took her to London and into the arms of a man whom she may not even love. And Lizzy, the youngest, more like Ronni than any of them, seemed to have it easy, using her drive and ambition to build a culinary career to rival her mother’s fame, while her marriage crumbled around her.
But now the Sunshine Girls are together again, called home by Ronni, who has learned that she has a serious disease and needs her daughters to fulfill her final wishes. And though Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy are all going through crises of their own, their mother’s illness draws them together to confront old jealousies and secret fears and they discover that blood might be thicker than water after all.
The Sunshine Girls is my first experience in reading Jane Green’s novels and I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to read it since most sites I visit categorize it as Chick Lit, which isn’t generally a genre I enjoy. I’m so glad I gave it a chance though because The Sunshine Girls is a beautifully written, compelling family drama that focuses on mother-daughter relationships, the bond between siblings, the search for love and self-worth, and most importantly, end-of-life regrets and the search for forgiveness and redemption.
The story focuses on Ronni Sunshine, an aging Hollywood star who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. When the story opens, Ronni is reflecting on her life – choices she has made, good and bad, and especially on regrets she has. Her biggest regret – and one she hopes she can fix in the little time she has left – is how she raised her three daughters, Nell, Meredith, and Lizzy. Even though she would never admit it before, Ronni is now fully cognizant of how she was so consumed with herself and with her career, that she never gave her daughters the attention, love, and support they needed. She raised them in an environment where she was not only often physically unavailable to them, but she was emotionally unavailable as well.
The environment that Ronni created for her daughters was not only harmful to her relationship with them, but it also damaged the bond between the sisters as well. When Ronni was frustrated with how things were going in her professional life, she often took out her frustrations on her girls, especially Meredith and Nell, heaping criticism upon criticism on them. Her favorite target was Meredith because Meredith was overweight and very insecure about herself, but Nell was a close second. Youngest daughter Lizzy somehow managed to escape the brunt of the verbal abuse, maybe because she was the baby or maybe because in most ways, she was the most similar to Ronni. Whatever the reason, Lizzy always being excluded from Ronni’s moody tirades only served to create resentment and drive a wedge between the sisters. For each of them, their primary goal in life is hurry up and graduate from high school and move as far away from Ronni as possible.
Each of the Sunshine sisters therefore go their separate ways and follow their own path. While each sister is moderately successful professionally, their personal lives are less than ideal. Healthy relationships seem to elude them, and they rarely ever speak to each other or to their mother. Oldest daughter Nell gets pregnant right out of high school, but the father doesn’t want anything to do with the baby so she’s left to raise her child alone. Nell stays closest to home, moving into a nearby farm and working as the caretaker there. Middle daughter Meredith moves to London, becomes an accountant, and gets engaged to a man that everyone assumes she has just settled for because in many ways, he’s a giant loser. Youngest daughter Lizzy becomes a successful business entrepreneur and operates a successful line of pop-up rooftop restaurants in Manhattan. Lizzy is married and has a child, but Lizzy also has a long-standing affair with her business partner.
As she reflects on her life and how she wants to leave this world, Ronni decides that she wants to do whatever she can to bring her daughters back together and repair the sisterly bond that she damaged when they were young. She therefore summons all three of them home so that she can tell them about her illness and so that she can try to begin the healing process in their relationships. While Ronni ultimately hopes they’ll forgive her for being such a sub-par mother, what she’s most concerned about at this point is that they come back together as a family so that she knows they’ll have each other after she’s gone.
My favorite part of The Sunshine Sisters is how well drawn each of the characters are. Even though the story starts out from Ronni’s point of view, we also see things from each of the three daughter’s perspectives so in each case, we get to see how they view themselves as well as how others view them.
I also liked the complexity of the relationship between Ronni and her children, as well as the relationships that each daughter has as they move into adulthood and beyond. It’s easy to see how their upbringing has shaped them into people who find it hard to enter into healthy relationships. Nell finds it easier to just not even put herself out there. It’s easier to just say she’s too busy with the farm and with raising her son. In Meredith’s case, the insecurity about her weight that her mom helped to perpetuate has made it so that she just assumes no one will ever fall in love with her. And in Lizzy’s case, she almost seems determined to sabotage what at least on the surface appears to be a healthy marriage. Ronni knows this is her fault and makes it her end-of-life mission to have a heart-to-heart with each daughter, basically giving them a lifetime of motherly advice and pep talks in one last conversation. While she knows it’s probably too little too late in terms of them forgiving her, Ronni still hopes that these talks will at least let her daughters know that even though she was a horrible mother, she still loves them with all her heart and wants nothing but the best for them.
I can’t really say I had any real dislikes other than that a few plot points were a little predictable. In most cases, the outcome was what I was hoping for though so it didn’t really bother me too much.
If you like a good family drama that explores relationships gone wrong and whether or not they can be repaired, then The Sunshine Sisters is one you should have on your radar. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, and Ronni being Ronni will occasionally make you want to throw the book across the room, but ultimately you won’t be able to put it down until you find out if Ronni achieves her dying wish to reunite her family.
RATING: 4 STARS
Thanks so much to First to Read, the Publisher, and of course Jane Green, for providing me with a copy of The Sunshine Girls in exchange for my honest review. This in no way influences my opinion of the book.