The Sisters by Nancy Jensen

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In the tradition of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, a dazzling debut novel about the family bonds that remain even when they seem irretrievably torn apart

Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other—with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women.

What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem.

Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen's powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.


About Nancy Jensen

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NANCY JENSEN, who received an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, has published stories and essays in numerous literary journals, including The Louisville Review, Other Voices, and Northwest Review. She was awarded an Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, and teaches English at Eastern Kentucky University. The Sisters, her first novel, was named one of the Best Fiction Books of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews.
Published November 8, 2011 by St. Martin's Press. 337 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction. Fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for The Sisters

Kirkus Reviews

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Della, who is the hard worker, chafes at the responsibilities she carries and feels jealous of the more carefree Avis, who drinks and carouses with Dad.

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Kirkus Reviews

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It is 1927 and since their mother’s death, Mabel and Bertie rely on each other in the face of their stepfather’s abuse.

Sep 20 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sisters

The New York Times

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In this first novel, two sisters lose their relationship over a miscommunication.

Dec 09 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sisters

Publishers Weekly

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First-time novelist Jensen redeems her soap opera plot—tracing the lives of two sisters separated in their youth by a tragic misunderstanding—with an observant eye, adept characterization, and a keen grasp of social issues.

Sep 05 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sisters

The Globe and Mail

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Pomme de Terre - in which a poor French-Canadian girl comes to work for the Hillocks as a housekeeper, catching the eye of both father and son while sparking both sisters' ire and longing - as well as Wake - a darkly humorous story in which the sisters shepherd their father's body to his funeral,...

Aug 20 2010 | Read Full Review of The Sisters

USA Today

Trouble is, she doesn't tell Bertie.While Bertie is graduating from the eighth grade and hoping to see her sister and boyfriend, Wallace, cheering her in the audience, Mabel and Wallace have fled Depression-era Jupiter, Ky., hoping Bertie will meet them.

Dec 10 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sisters

Look At OKC

She leaves a note with instructions for Bertie to take the next train to meet up with them, but Bertie never receives it.

Dec 18 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sisters


Mabel has a plan for her and Bertie to escape their little corner of hell as soon as Bertie graduates from the eighth grade, but she decides to keep the plan secret from Bertie.

Dec 14 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sisters

Red Room

From Bertie’s daughter Alma who yearns to be Shirley Temple in childhood so she can make everything right again and draw close to her distant mother, to Grace whose name exemplifies her ability -- unlike the other sisters -- to reach beyond her circumstances and find healing through unconditional...

Nov 13 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sisters

The Gleaner

In her debut novel, The Sisters, Nancy Jensen essentially applies to a family the concept of "the butterfly effect", the idea that a small action can eventually lead to significant impacts some other place, some other time.

Nov 20 2011 | Read Full Review of The Sisters

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