Wow.. I'm not even going to waste your time building up to whether or not this book is worth reading.. it absolutely is. If you like family drama, mystery, or contemporary works with depth of any kind, you should give 'The Island Girls' by Noelle Harrison a read. Today. Seriously, the links are below.
Normally, I'm not typically into childhood centric stories about the bonds of youth. You might assume I have a chilly nature.. and to a degree you might be right. But I also grew up an only child with very few kids in my personal life at all. Mostly, I grew up around adults and a couple of other kids like me.. who were more like smaller, less experienced adults. None of us really knew how to be children.
Reading this book, I feel like that's how it was for Susannah too.. albeit for far more serious reasons.
Taking place on a remote island called Vinalhaven off the coast of Maine, the narrative alternates between a timeline between the mid-50's to mid-60's where a pair of sisters were coming of age and 2011, Susannah still lives, but Kate is now long gone.. and a young Irish palliative care nurse named Emer has arrived to help out through the end stages of her cancer.
Like Susannah and Kate, Emer is one half of a tragically broken pair. Her sister Orla, having died about a month prior also to cancer, has left her feeling guilty for not being with her at the end. So, through this commitment to Susannah, she hopes to make it up to her own sister.
What starts out as a languidly paced tale about the pitfalls of the island mindset they grew up with, turns gradually into a starkly shaded story of dreadful intuitions and trauma.
Their lives, especially once Kate becomes enthralled with a local fisherman, become a bit of a slow rolling storm. Even miles out at sea.. you can tell it's going to be devastating sooner or later.
Interestingly enough, Harrison blind-sided me with an event fairly late into the book, when I'd settled into an easy sense of security.. much like the characters in her story. I had been casually reading from the beginning, as I always do with mysteries, with a pretty decent expectation as to where it was all leading.
Mind you, some of those expectations were correct, but only the least of them and not remotely in the way I originally believed they would be.
From the event forward, my entire perspective changed. It shocked me so much that I re-read the first lines as it happened, three or four times in a row.. just stunned.
After that, I started to make logic leaps that I never would have early on in the book. My imagination even went a bit wild, admittedly.. as some of my leaps I realized quickly made no sense, though I still wondered as to the possibility of them.
Ultimately, I did understand most of what was barreling down upon me as a reader, before it happened.. but not long before and that result was far more satisfying than anything I normally experience with a title like this.
The author does a beautiful job of telling the tale through a series of letters interspersed between standard narratives told by both Susannah and Emer. And the two pairs of sisters lives almost mirror each others in a way, building an amazing foundation for the connection forming between the main characters. She elegantly sprinkles information throughout the book.. connecting more and more dots until you can see the entire painful picture she has painted.
Noelle Harrison is a writer to watch. She brought me to tears and I'm not even mad about it. She earned them. I can't wait to read more of her work.