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Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters: A Review

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The Sullivan family’s Christmas began in the traditional way that year. The six Sullivan siblings opened their gifts. Daddy-o made pancakes for breakfast and Ginger contributed her signature dish to the feast (sliced grapefruit halves sprinkled with Splenda).

Christmas would take an unexpected turn at the Sullivan’s annual holiday dinner with the family matriarch–unaffectionately known by family, friends, enemies, and most of Baltimore as “Almighty Lou.”

One of the Sullivans has deeply offended Almighty.

Subsequently the entire family has been cut out of her will unless the offending person comes forward with a full confession by New Year’s Day. If not, their share of the fortune will be donated to Puppy Ponchos–a charity providing rain ponchos for dogs in need of raincoats.

No one knows for sure what drove Almighty to this extreme.

Could it have been seventeen-year-old Norrie and her completely unsuitable romance? Did sixteen-year-old Jane’s airing the family’s dirty laundry on myevilfamily.com seal the family’s fate? Or does it have something to do with fifteen-year-old Sassy maybe, possibly, sort of having something to do with the death of Almighty’s fifth husband Wallace?

The girls dutifully write their confessions hoping to appease their grandmother. If they can appease her their lives can go on as before. But once the confessions are written and the secrets revealed, nothing will be the same in Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters (2010) by Natalie Standiford.

Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters is an interesting blend of romance, humor, elements of the magical and a classic coming-of-age story all rolled into one. Broken into three parts, each sister has a chance to tell her own part of the story. Except all of their stories occur over the same period of time. This fact creates an interesting narrative with overlapping events, blended narrations, and multiple viewpoints used to flesh out certain aspects of the story.

Standiford also provides a surprising amount of suspense for a story that is decidedly not an adventure. Will the Sullivans be disinherited? Is Norrie’s romance going to end horribly? Is Jane’s family really evil? What is going on with Sassy? There are so many juicy questions to be answered that Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters quickly becomes equal parts page turner and Bildungsroman.

Some aspects of the story are bizarre and almost out of place–the whole novel is actually very reminiscent of the blend of everyday and surreal elements commonly found in magical realism—but by the end of the story it all kind of works. Standiford has once again taken a unique premise and made it something really special with winsome characters and clever prose.

Possible Pairings: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, King of the Screwups by K. L. Going, Girl Overboard by Justina Chen Headley, Confessions of a Not It Girl by Melissa Kantor, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

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