The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Two sisters, Jazz and Olivia, barely out of childhood are dealing with the aftermath of their mother's death. Jazz is the older of the two. She wants to be strong, contrary, and reasonable. Hope is a word that does not exist in her vocabulary. She is pragmatic to the point of cynicism. She refuses to experience emotion. It serves no purpose. Neither do dreams, for that matter. So when her sister, Olivia, begins to walk to a place where she believes she will find the answers to her mother's afflictions and the ending to her mother's unfinished book, Jazz is exasperated.
Olivia is a dreamer. Completely unconventional, she also suffers (?) from a neurological condition known as Synesthesia. I wish I would have known that word when I read a book by Amy Bender about sadness in a lemon cake. Olivia's wires get crossed and she experiences sensory input differently than others. Letters and numbers represent different things to her. The number 5 is wet sand. The letter A is always red. Her mother smells like sunshine. The lights in the bogs look like hope. The Moon Sisters is lush and literary, a feast for senses because of Olivia but the other characters exhibit a little bit of this imagery, as well. Just not like Olivia who kisses a boy and tastes tomorrow. Olivia's senses are also used to compensate for a new condition that leaves her legally blind because she stared at the sun and burned her retina.
Told in alternating voices of Olivia and Jazz, the girls take a small, supposed one night trip to another part of West Virginia. Interspersed between the chapters are letters that their mother had written to her own father, giving the reader a glimpse of the heartbreak she lived when her father cut her out of his life when she was 21. Also revealed within the letters are hopes and dreams she has. She is more like Olivia minus the Synesthesia and, although painted at first as probably manic depressive, she also possesses a deep love and commitment to her family.
Along the way the girls meet a few characters. Notably, a train hopper who calls himself Hobbes. Olivia sees Hobbs in a different way than Jazz, of course. Even if she had her vision completely intact, Olivia's vision is often much more clear than others. She can hear jagged holes in voices or hollowness in a word or step. She can also see hurt, love, depth in touch or any other sense. Jazz is literal. She sees a boy with tattoos all over his face and neck and immediately makes her judgment. Hobbs is as broken as the girls, perhaps more so, yet all parties gain insights and different ways to see throughout their interaction.
The last main character is Red Grass, another train hopper. He is older and always prepared. There is something about Red Grass that nobody seems to trust and the truth of him is one of the better surprises of the book.
The book is layered with symbolism and the insights gained can be likened to whichever diverse character the reader identifies most with, although each character is endearing in one way or another. Each character is dealing with deep emotion, perceptions of painful events, and figuring out how to either heal or deal.
Wonderful book that I'd suggest for a book club with the warning that there is the occasional swearing that might be offensive to some. I loved the book.