Bertie and her older sister Mabel have stuck together since the death of their mother a few years ago. Life isn’t easy on their hardscrabble Kentucky farm with their cruel stepfather, but Bertie has a boyfriend, and both girls dream of the day when they are old enough to move away. But something changes on the day of Bertie’s eighth grade graduation, and a series of misunderstandings lead to bitter feelings of betrayal as the two sisters go their separate ways. The novel traces the paths that each choose, following the sisters through the Depression, the Second World War, the conflict in Vietnam, and into the present day, as they touch the lives of their own daughters and granddaughters and learn how deep family can run.
This was a neatly wrought family saga, covering a nice slice of 20th-century American history. Although it moves rapidly through history at times, it’s full of such rich detail that I was content to go along for the ride. Characterization was the book’s strength. Jensen presents a cast of distinct characters, all with different talents and worldviews. I enjoyed watching them grow and interact.
The novel was only marred by what I found to be an unsatisfying ending. During the course of the book, Jensen builds up certain questions and certain hopes for the reader that remained unfulfilled at the end, at least for me. But, overall, it was an absorbing read full of carefully layered secrets and characters to whom I was loath to say goodbye.