Like a Sister: A Novelby Janice Daugharty
It is 1956, and thirteeen-year-old Sister must raise her three siblings on her own, as her mother, Marnie, has a new boyfriend who isn't interested in kids. Taking charge of her life, Sister befriends a kindly neighbor named Willa, who appears to be everything a mother should be. But when a respected and powerful man in town notices that Sister is
It is 1956, and thirteeen-year-old Sister must raise her three siblings on her own, as her mother, Marnie, has a new boyfriend who isn't interested in kids. Taking charge of her life, Sister befriends a kindly neighbor named Willa, who appears to be everything a mother should be. But when a respected and powerful man in town notices that Sister is blossoming unsupervised into quite a young woman, trouble starts to brew. Willa soon steps in to intervene, and Sister thinks she may have found salvation. But within the pages of Like a Sister, things are never what they seem.
Depicting a vulnerable, heartbreaking, and richly Southern world, Like a Sister allows readers to gaze through the eyes of a young whom they will not soon forget.
Read an Excerpt
Sister is thirteen and oldest in the family, old enough to recall the peace of crickets singing, young enough to believe that peace is still possible. Till she has to quit caring.
What Sister hears now are her brat brothers fighting and her baby sister squealing and the neighbors saying ... The baby is Sister's, from her mother, Mamie, to lug on her hip up and down the lane and along the highway leading into Cornerville. To hear what she doesn't even know she is hearing till she gets up some size and the neighbors start saying-in looks that tell-how that trashy bunch of Odumses have opened the old café and invaded the neighborhood.
Sister cannot say exactly when or where she was when she first saw heard that look, and maybe it was sometime at night after she lay down to sleep, but she saw it. Then her eyes sprang wide and her lips parted and she repeated over and over like a sinner's prayer how she would not sorry away like Mamie, whose fixed-up face loomed in a nimbus like the face of Jesus in the picture at church, even as Sister tried to despise her.
But Sister doesn't know how yet, or even what it is that she will do or not do, what it is that she's seenheard-on the faces of the neighbors. Or even that she will have to figure it all out before she can do or not do it. She marvels, thinking back, at how she has sallied off to school, Before Knowledge, feeling her hair in class. Everybody but her knowing that you don't sit and pinch the ends of your hair in public, or pick your nose, or scratch the ringworm on your butt.
Her face bums recalling all the careless things she's done just functioning,doing what feels good. That ease of living, stuffed but starving, feeling good. She thinks about the feel-good tricks she taught Sueann Horton in her backyard at the Sampson Camp, north of Cornerville, and about Sueann's mother sending Sister home in shame.
She makes herself miserable with remembering and watching to see who sees what she isn't yet sure is the right or the wrong things to do, to be. When she goes to Sade's Café, to visit Marnie, she has to be on the lookout for neighbors watering their flowers or sitting on their porches.
"Shh!" she says to the baby and blows at gnat drifts in the guttering sunlight. Listening out to hear if they are talking about the threat of rain, the Russians, or the Odumses. Suddenly Sister notices that the baby is filthy tarry patches of chewed bubble gum on her pale face and chest. The bird-boned baby with sheer white hair grins and grabs Sister's nose and rises high in Sister's arms so that she has to wag her head from side to side to see the barefoottracked path to the café. When Sister holds the baby up to the sun, she can almost see through her. A miracle of rubbery flesh, blue veins, and pink bones.
Glitter in the sand, like the glitzy red and blue fenders of the café jukebox, and that "Mister Sandman" song that makes Sister long for the old days of early spring, when she would get so happy that the nerves in her kneecaps would jump. Smoke from cigarettes, french fries, and burned hamburger grease. She has been served fried chicken before, right here. Once.
She locks her knees and hoists the baby higher. Wet diaper chapping Sister's arm like salt rubbed into her mosquito bites. She sits at one of the close round tables and bounces the baby on her lap. She can see the faces of two teenage boys seated at the bar in the gold-flecked mirror on the wall ahead. Can see her own bronzy cast against the baby's bluish pallor. Sister's hair is black and straight, with bangs. Chinese eyes and full lips that don't figure. The two boys, one black-headed with a chubby heart face and the other blond and angular, are snickering into glasses of Cherry Coke.
Marnie's latest man, Sade Odums, stands in the kitchen doorway with his thumbs hooked in his tooled leather belt. A blond giant with more scalp than hair and hard blue eyes that pinch his face into a mad stare.
'Where's Mamie?" Sister asks, too loud now that the song on the jukebox has quit; the automatic arm judders the record back to its slot. A low hum.
"in the back room," says Sade. "Be out in a jiff. "
The boys mock strangle, giggle.
"Y'all behave yourself now," Sade says to the boys and starts toward Sister. "Whatcha want, Sister?" he asks.
"The twins is cussing and carrying on something awful. Keep messing up the kitchen evertime I clean it up." Same thing she said last time any excuse to keep a check on Mamie. To get close again. Before Sade, between the other boyfriends and husbands, Sister and Mamie were close. She misses Mamie. Misses combing her soft brown hair, misses painting her flat nails, misses scratching her pimply back.
"Tell 'em I said to settle down." Sade hard-eyes the boys at the bar, whose white teeth flash in the mirror.
Long-bodied and tall with hiked shoulders, the blond boy gets up and fishes in his pants pocket, then crosses the square room to the jukebox.
"Say, Sade," calls the other boy, "whatcha charge for just watching?"
The boy at the jukebox laughs, drops his nickel in the slot.
The sun, dropping likewise, beyond the plate-glass windows, shows grease smears and handprints and "Sade's Café" spelled backwards. Sister studies the words and tries to make them mean something new. The baby reaches for...
Meet the Author
Janice Daugharty is Writer-in-Residence at Valdosta State University, near her home in Georgia. She is the author of one story collection and five novels: Dark of the Moon, Necessary Lies, Pawpaw Patch, Earl in the Yellow Shirt, and Whistle.
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Janice Daugharty does in LIKE A SISTER what we have come to expect from her. First, you can literally smell and feel the trees, grass and other growing things. And I'm convinced that I could take the writer's directions and find my way over all of South Georgia. She literally makes this little world come alive. But most importantly, Ms. Daugharty has created in the character of Sister someone that I cared desperately about, one of my criteria usually for liking a book much. The plot gets a little convoluted, but the writer stays two steps ahead of the reader, or at least this one. I was not prepared for the ending. A really good marriage of a character study and a great plot. I disagree with those who say Ms. Daugharty is watered down Faulker and/or Welty. She writes like no other writer I've read, Southern or otherwise. To paraphrase Robert Frost's definition of poetry: this story begins in delight and ends in wisdom.
This author is too conscious of herself as a 'Southerner' and trying to hard to imitate great Southern authors of the past. A previous novel copied Faulkner's plot in AS I LAY DYING, and now LIKE A SISTER copies every novel about 'poor white trash' you've ever read, and not very skillfully. This story of 'Sister'--a poor Victim with a capital 'V'--has no real story; Sister just schleps around town being victimized. The book is really a short story dragged out to novel length. A disappointing read.