Review of Sisters


Daisy Johnson

August 25, 2020

Riverhead Books

Blurb: Born just ten months apart, July and September are thick as thieves, never needing anyone but each other. Now, following a case of school bullying, the teens have moved away with their single mother to a long-abandoned family home near the shore. In their new, isolated life, July finds that the deep bond she has always shared with September is shifting in ways she cannot entirely understand. A creeping sense of dread and unease descends inside the house. Meanwhile, outside, the sisters push boundaries of behavior—until a series of shocking encounters tests the limits of their shared experience, and forces shocking revelations about the girls’ past and future.

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I went through three phases while reading Daisy Johnson’s literary horror novel Sisters. 1. I hope this weird syntax does not continue for 500 pages. 2. Page turning, page turning, page turning aka swish, swish, swish. 3. Disappointment.

Sisters is a story of dysfunctional relationships. Sisters September and July are daughters of Peter and Sheela. By the time the novel has begun, with the girls in their teens, Peter has been long dead. The circumstances of his death seem far too simple for the complexity that this novel strives for. Peter is a bully. He picked relentlessly on his sister and then his wife. It seems that September is his daughter in more than looks.

July is a fragment of a person. She is overshadowed by her bullying sister, bullied by mean girls at her school, and has little identity. But she longs to have one. As September is a miniature version of her father, July is a miniature of her mother, Sheela, but years of living in September’s shadow have removed her backbone, the kind of backbone her mother had that allowed her to leave her husband. July is a shadow, a wraith of a person.

Both sisters are depicted as being far younger than their years, a fact that is never satisfactorily explained, except perhaps if one accepts that they have evolved in their own world of two people. The first scene set in the house with them scrounging for food made me think that they were adolescents rather than 15 and 16–burning and under-cooking a chicken pie by putting it under the broiler?

Much of the writing is intended to be evocative, atmospheric, lending itself to jarring. Unfortunately, I never felt uneasy. And later scenes that set up the ending felt familiar, as if I had read something similar before, which is one reason why the ending fell flat with me. Perhaps the ending would have sizzled if the stakes had been higher, but the stakes had already been set before the novel even began so the feeling of loss never existed. One’s feeling at the end of a page turning novel should not be: aw, that’s too bad. I wanted to feel at the end of Sisters. I wanted to feel something new and big and thought-provoking, but all I felt was let down.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.



3 butterflies and a ladybug out of 5 butterflies

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