Book Review: The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
“I loved my South, though I could see how it was broken, plagued still with the legacies of slavery and war and segregation….Still, I always thought my homeland was a single place. I was wrong….The Second South was always present, though, and in it decency was a thin, green cover over the rancid soil of our dark history.”
Joshilyn Jackson’s latest novel, The Almost Sisters, definitely makes the list of my favorite books I’ve read this year. I love reading books set in the South, even if they take place in towns I have never been to (or fictional). I read Jackson’s first novel, Gods in Alabama, earlier this fall. I said it in that review, but I’ll say it again: Jackson writes the South so beautifully. She includes all of its flaws, but still makes me proud to be a Southerner.
The Almost Sisters is about Leia Birch Briggs, a single thirty-eight-year-old graphic novelist who has to come up with a prequel to her original series Violence in Violet, and her family. Her stepsister Rachel has the seemingly perfect marriage to Jake and a lovely daughter, but we quickly find out that her life is not so perfect. Leia has a one-night stand with a black Batman at a ComicCon-like event and winds up pregnant. She wants to tell her grandmother Birchie, but before she can, she is called by the Birchville First Baptist phone tree. Birchie made a scene at church and said some pretty scandalous things about her fellow church members.
Leia takes Rachel’s daughter Lavender along for the trip down to Birchville, Alabama. Once there, Leia learns that Birchie and her black best friend (who is more like her sister) Wattie have been hiding Birchie’s sickness from not only all of Birchville, but also Leia. Leia is upset because even though Birchie is 90 years old, she still is the matriarch of the town and Leia’s role model. Birchie and Wattie live in the Birch family home and do absolutely everything together, even switching off going to First Baptist Church for Birchie and Redemption Baptist for Wattie. It quickly becomes apparent that Wattie is actually keeping Birchie together, constantly calming her down and whispering in her ear.
On the way down to Birchville, Lavender guesses about Leia’s pregnancy and tries to track down Batman on Facebook for Leia (with the help of Birchie's cute teenage neighbor Hugh). As Lavender is worried about her own parents getting a divorce, she wants to ensure that Leia’s baby knows who his father is. A huge theme throughout all of The Almost Sisters is the different kinds of fathers. Lavender's dad Jake (or JJ) turned out to be a jackass, Leia’s dad died before she was born, and then you have Batman, who doesn’t know he will be a father (yet).
I love how Jackson leans hard into all of Leia’s nerdiness. I am not into comic books and that whole culture, but I really enjoyed reading a protagonist who is completely comfortable in her skin and embraces her dorkiness. Rachel, Jake, Leia’s mom and stepdad never really understand her love of superheroes and comic books, but Birchie and Wattie have always let her freak flag fly. Once Leia reconnects with Batman (thanks to Lavender), they text for a while and then spend a date playing Online Scrabble. It is so nerdy, and I just adored their dorky, witty banter. Give me more of Batman’s character; he is precious.
I'm not sure if this is true of all of Jackson's novels, but church is a very big part of the story in both Gods in Alabama and The Almost Sisters (as it is in most Southern towns). I loved all the interactions between the First Baptist Church members. Birchie being offended by Pastor Rick's Californian ways was hysterical. I have never experienced that level of cattiness at my church, but I am sure it happens. Jackson writes the joys and drama of living in a small town in the South so well. The community rallies behind its residents, but you also see that horrible Second South like Jackson described. (Side note: Martina Mack reminded me of an older Southern Dolores Umbridge. Anyone else? Alright, just me then.)
The Almost Sisters definitely ranks among my list of favorites from 2017. I loved Leia as a character and want to read more about her and Batman. So Joshilyn Jackson, if you’re reading this, a story about Leia and Batman would make my Christmas. I absolutely adored The Almost Sisters and can’t wait to read more Joshilyn Jackson. 5 stars!
Let me know what the next Joshilyn Jackson book I should read is.