For November, I wanted a book that dealt with a more somber topic, so I chose this novel. It is great for group discussions. Maynard has the skill to write about family issues right where it hurts. The story revolves around two girls who were born in the same town, on the same night, and in the same hospital. They happen to be neighbours and are forever known as “Birthday Sisters”.
The chapters alternate between the views of Ruth Plank and Dana Dickerson—from their memories when they are kids, to the present day of being seniors. The novel’s setting is mostly in New England (with a snippet of Vancouver) during the 1950’s till today. Ruth is the youngest daughter of Connie and Edwin Plank (who is a strawberry farmer). Dana is the second child of Val and George Dickerson.
Both families see each other over the years fleetingly—as if there really is another reason to get together (besides the fact that Ruth and Dana share the same birth date). That reason starts becoming clear, once Ruth has a passionate relationship with Dana’s brother, Ray. Throughout the story, both Ruth and Dana struggle to be “good daughters” because the relationship they have with their mothers is not a close one. However, Edwin Plank seems to revere both girls, and we eventually find out the reson for this.
Father-daughter relationships are explored, as well as same sex ones (Dana is a lesbian), and the tragedy of terminal illness. This book plays with your mind and your heart. It is a tear-jerker read, yet it also succeeds in giving you hope and leaving you with an optimistic feeling. I would say it is a good Fall title.
If you liked this novel, we have other books by Joyce Maynard that you might enjoy:
Labor Day (F M471L)
The Usual Rules (F M471u)
At Home in the World: a Memoir (92 M4714)
Where Love Goes (F M471w)
To Die For (F M471t)
Baby Love (F M471b)
*A new book:
To read reviews on The Good Daughters please click on the links below.
From The Washington Post:
From The Dallas Morning News:
For information about Joyce Maynard, click below:
Here are two questions that you can think about after having read the book:
-The novel opens with a terrible storm. How does this beginning portend the events of the ensuing story?
-What are your impressions of Edwin Plank, Connie Plank, and Valerie Dickerson? If this story were set today, would the outcome be the same? Why?
The questions above, as well as the following, have been provided by Harper Collins Canada. To read the additional questions, please click on the link below:
The term “Good Daughters” is used when planting and harvesting strawberries, which is Edwin Plank’s job as a strawberry farmer. When growing strawberries, the main plant that is placed in the ground is known as the mother plant. The runners that grow from the “mother plant” are known as the “daughters”. Good daughters are the ones that take root, bearing blossoms and fruit. Strawberries have been known almost since the beginning of time. Ancient Greeks and Romans looked at it as a wild plant, while Shakespeare used it as a design on a charachter’s handkerchief in Othello. For more interesting points on the strawberry, click on:
This book reminded me of …
When I read this novel it brought to mind Lisa See’s book Dreams of Joy. The way the chapters alternate between Joy and Pearl’s voices reminds me of how Ruth and Dana give us their point of view within the differing chapters. Also, there is the whole focus in each book about farming (whether in China or New England). Even the time period is about the same.
Favorite quote from book:
In Ruth’s opinion, “It is one of the mysterious things I have spent years considering—how it can be that one person may have a way of touching you that can make your skin practically burn, and another (a much better man, perhaps, or at least a very good one who loves you as well and truly as any person ever has) may simply not possess a talent of that touch. And if he doesn’t, none of the other things matter in the end. If a person doesn’t move your heart, there’s not a thing your head can do about that.” (p. 136)
Most tense moment in the story:
We know there is something terribly awkward, heartwrenching and almost horrific when Ruth finds out she is pregnant and her mother comes to take her away. (p. 145-150)
Next month’s title:
The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass