The Good Sister: A Novel. Gillian McAllister. Penguin Publishing Group. Copyright June 2019, pb, 400 pp.; ISBN: 9780525539391.
Martha and Becky Blackwater are extremely close sisters. However, all that closeness is blown to bits when Martha’s eight-week-old baby, Layla, is found dead while in Becky’s care. Becky quit her job so become Layla’s nanny. The death of Layla, though, exposes many aspects of Becky’s life that might be construed by the jury at the trial to indicate Becky was at fault.
The chapters are narrated by the Blackwater family, acquaintances, neighbors and others who knew both sisters. The author does a marvelous job at depicting the thoughts and feelings of these narrators during the trial with a sensitive touch. Martha is fraught with guilt about returning to work on the charity group she created plus guilt at leaving a daughter who suffered from reflux from birth and spent most of her awake time crying from discomfort. Becky is overwhelmed with this new job but feels too guilty to admit it; instead, she descends into drinking too much and too frequently, to the point that her child Xander is frequently afraid of her. Others see warning signs of danger, including yelling from Becky’s home at odd times of day and night.
The parents of both sisters are anxious but try to be supportive of both sisters. They have lost a grandchild but love their children. No one seems to know the truth of what happened, that is until the very end of the story. It’s unforgettable when this secret is revealed. All still have to learn to live with the loss and the aftermath in this breach of trust and love that almost destroys an entire family.
A memorable, finely-crafted novel, The Good Sister is a good read about relationships and what challenges do to them in the present and future. It’s also a warning about making false assumptions from evidence that is highly subjective. Every situation is unique and above-second-guessing. Nicely done, Gillian McAllister!