Did anyone watch the Nintendo Direct from earlier this week? I actually cried at the announcement of the Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life remake. A childhood favorite brought to the present, sure makes the swellest present! Unfortunately, Alear’s god awful design in the newest Fire Emblem: Engage announcement, from the same Direct, has ruined the presentation for me. It’s just…that Colgate, Nintendo Switch colored hair. Just…why?? Fantastic art otherwise, not too sure about the animations, and not too keen on the unoriginal “yet another revived Fell Dragon in need of slaying” plot. Am I still getting it? For sure!
This week’s book that’s up for review: The Frederick Sisters Are Living The Dream by Jeannie Zusy. Thought to have been long overdue for a review, now that I have checked the publishing date, I actually made it on time for release! Phew!
Book Title: The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream: A Novel
Author: Jeannie Zusy
Length: 306 Pages (Paper) > Paperback ARC Edition
Publication Date: September 20th 2022
Publisher: Atria Books
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Family, Humor, Literary Fiction, Womens Fiction
Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me, via a Goodreads Giveaway, in exchange for a fair and honest review. A huge thank you to Goodreads, the author, and Atria books for this copy! All opinions are my own.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine meets Early Morning Riser with a dash of Where’d You Go, Bernadette in this very funny, occasionally romantic, and surprisingly moving novel about how one woman’s life is turned upside down when she becomes caregiver to her sister with special needs.
Every family has its fault lines, and when Maggie gets a call from the ER in Maryland where her older sister lives, the cracks start to appear. Ginny, her sugar-loving and diabetic older sister with intellectual disabilities, has overdosed on strawberry Jell-O.
Maggie knows Ginny really can’t live on her own, so she brings her sister and her occasionally vicious dog to live near her in upstate New York. Their other sister, Betsy, is against the idea but as a professional surfer, she is conveniently thousands of miles away.
Thus, Maggie’s life as a caretaker begins. It will take all of her dark humor and patience, already spread thin after a separation, raising two boys, freelancing, and starting a dating life, to deal with Ginny’s diapers, sugar addiction, porn habit, and refusal to cooperate. Add two devoted but feuding immigrant aides and a soon-to-be ex-husband who just won’t go away, and you’ve got a story that will leave you laughing through your tears as you wonder who is actually taking care of whom.
Oh, this was such a refreshing read that I thoroughly enjoyed!
Three sisters and all of the worries, self-doubts, and struggles between them. What’s on the surface is never “just the only things” that’s going on.
I struggled to get into and start the book because every time I cracked it open, there are no chapters but rather, four long parts. Stopping in the middle of a reading session was always awkward, but it wasn’t that much of a problem when you finally get into the book. Even if I didn’t like the way the book was divided, I fell in love with the intensity of the writing and the realism from every character. It felt like reading right off Maggie’s private journals, like listening to a friend tell me about her day, like being in her head and hearing and experiencing all of her worries. The writing is choppy in places but I loved most of everything else; the tension, the frustration, the thoughts of both Maggie and those around her, and of course all of their joys and mini celebrations too.
The story begins with Maggie driving Ginny back to live in New York, to be closer to her. It’s a trip from Maryland, somewhere Ginny will never see again and she doesn’t even know that yet. Virginia (Ginny) has an intellectual disability and despite living just fine on her own and away from her siblings, ever since she’s retired from her job, her life has gone downhill, her health in decline. She’s no longer able to take care of herself and her diabetes is not being properly managed, causing her to end up with sepsis and nearly dying. She doesn’t want to move, and oldest sister, Betsy (Bets), says that Maggie should just be allowed to live how she wants to live. If that means leaving her to her own devices and she dies from it…well…
So, against both her sisters’ wishes, Maggie brings Ginny closer to her, in upstate New York. Because what does Bets know? She’s off in California, surfing up her dream life and appearing on television!
This was a heartwarming read. I know it’s listed as humorous, but I felt kind of sad through the book. Sad for Ginny’s loss of freedom and loss of independence, something she’s had for decades. Sad for Bets and sad for Maggie and Ginny who know that something’s up with Bets to act so aloof and distant (physically and mentally), but we never know what and why. Sad for Maggie who is a bit neurotic and lonely but means well with all her heart. Sad for the kids and how the “divorce” affected them. But it was also refreshing because it shows the complex emotions and issues that make up a family: the relationship between the sisters, loneliness of the husband living separately but the kids also never being home, coming to terms about past mistakes and the growth, the bickering that stems from misunderstandings, the burnout, the drinking, the “am I really doing this for Ginny’s health or my own selfishness?”, the “When is it Maggie’s turn to be taken cared of?” Emotions are very strong here and I know I’ve cried a few times.
The characters here are wonderful, so well-developed, and again, as real as it gets. Bets is far away and acts like she doesn’t care that Ginny is no longer able to care for herself or the fact that she nearly died. She acts aloof, but from the beginning you know, through her brief encounters and calls, that something’s wrong on her end and nobody knows what until the end. Just as much as it affects Maggie, it too lingered in my mind from the very beginning, “What’s wrong with Bets? It’s bad, but we don’t know what and she won’t say anything.” Maggie always means the best, but at times she can be controlling and even intimidating in her “never wrong” attitude. She means well, but her work goes unappreciated on all ends. She knows that she can be controlling, but she also knows that the alternative is that the world falls apart: Bets will grow farther and farther away, Ginny could die, her sons could leave her for good.
Ginny struggles with her many losses too, from nearly dying to being torn from her own home, in Maryland, to first being put in a nursing home and then, against her will, put in a house that Maggie helped her find only to have a home-aide follow her everywhere and not let her do the things she enjoys (such as cutting back on a lot of sweets). She can’t even hold her own dog anymore and she loves Rascal!
Still, it’s not all sad and there are sprinkles here and there. I wouldn’t call it a depressing read nor would I call it a comedic one either. The best description may be, bittersweet with a hint of warm cinnamon. Life is hard with a rare treat in the middle. It’s a dark chocolate cupcake kind of bittersweet humor. Every character has their ups and good sides and their downs and flaws. As hard as things are, and as distant as the three sisters have become, the ending was relieving and as everyone comes back to some form of connection and a mutual understanding is made, you could almost feel the weights lifted from everyone’s shoulders, main and side characters alike. Bets tells Maggie of her own struggles, in both past and her current life, and Maggie sees Bets off on a warmer ground. Ginny begins to love New York and Maggie has something great to look forward to again.
It’s a hard read for sure, the tone, even with all the bits of humor thrown in, is still serious. Oftentimes, my heart clenches after an argument because I understand how hard the situation can be. It was a wonderful read and I enjoyed it enough to add it to my very small pile of books I would reread when I get a chance to.
Heart touching, heartwarming, heartbreaking. Special and loving.