The Orphan Sister

( 20 )


Clementine Lord is not an orphan. She just feels like one sometimes. One of triplets, a quirk of nature left her the odd one out. Odette and Olivia are identical; Clementine is a singleton. Biologically speaking, she came from her own egg. Practically speaking, she never quite left it. Then Clementine?s father?a pediatric neurologist who is an expert on children?s brains, but clueless when it comes to his own daughters?disappears, and his choices, both past and present, force the family dynamics to change at ...

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Clementine Lord is not an orphan. She just feels like one sometimes. One of triplets, a quirk of nature left her the odd one out. Odette and Olivia are identical; Clementine is a singleton. Biologically speaking, she came from her own egg. Practically speaking, she never quite left it. Then Clementine’s father—a pediatric neurologist who is an expert on children’s brains, but clueless when it comes to his own daughters—disappears, and his choices, both past and present, force the family dynamics to change at last. As the three sisters struggle to make sense of it, their mother must emerge from the greenhouse and leave the flowers that have long been the focus of her warmth and nurturing.

For Clementine, the next step means retracing the winding route that led her to this very moment: to understand her father’s betrayal, the tragedy of her first lost love, her family’s divisions, and her best friend Eli’s sudden romantic interest. Most of all, she may finally have found the voice with which to share the inside story of being the odd sister out. . . .

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A trio of sisters navigates familial quirks and tragedy in Gross's emotionally charged fourth novel (after The Other Mother). Though Odette, Olivia, and Clementine have always shared a special bond as triplets, Clementine—the narrator and nonidentical triplet sibling to identical twins, has often felt like the third wheel. It doesn't help matters that, as they approach 30, Odette and Olivia are Harvard grads, sharing a medical practice, happily married, and expecting babies, while Clementine is living in her parents' carriage house. The sisterly bond is further strained when their father disappears and Olivia claims to know the dark secret that compelled him to take off, but she refuses to share anything more than her anger. As Clementine searches for clues, she touches on the secret that will redefine the sisters' identity, confronts her unresolved anger toward her father, and comes to terms with the long-ago death of her first love. Gross brings abundant personality to the sisters' interactions as they move through a fairly humdrum story of family secrets. (July)
From the Publisher
"Breathtakingly original. A haunting exploration of love, loyalty, sisters, hope, and the ties that bind us together—and make the ground tremble beneath us when they break. I loved, loved, loved this novel." —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You

“This charming portrait of an impossibly gorgeous and gifted family is something rare: a delightful confection, filled with humor and warmth, that also probes the complex nature of identity, the vagaries of romantic and filial love, and the materialism inherent in contemporary American culture.”—Joanna Smith Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age

“Engaging and sentence-perfect, wonderful in so many ways, but I love it best for its vibrant, emotionally complex main character Clementine. I felt so entirely with her, as she loves those around her with both devotion and complexity and as she struggles to achieve a delicate balance between belonging to others and being herself.”—Marisa de los Santos

“With exquisite language and an empathetic ear, Gwendolen Gross paints a gorgeous portrait of life, love, loss and sisterhood, and forces you to ask yourself: how far will you go for your family and what secrets can shatter even that bond? The Orphan Sister will linger long after you’ve turned the final page.” —Allison Winn Scotch, New York Times bestselling author of The One That I Want

"A well-written novel about complex family relationships."—Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews

The youngest of triplet sisters asserts her identity in Gross' fourth novel (The Other Mother, 2007, etc.).

Although all three girls are very close, Clementine's minutes-older sisters Odette and Olivia are identically beautiful and communicate with a telepathy Clementine, the odd sister out, can never quite match. Odette and Olivia are also both Harvard-educated, happily married doctors and currently pregnant. In contrast, Clementine graduated belatedly from Oberlin (barely acceptable to her high-achieving family) and is now living in her parents' garage apartment in Princeton while applying to vet schools. She is also single, not yet over the drowning death of her college boyfriend Cameron. Then the triplets' highly regarded, much sought-after neurosurgeon father doesn't show up for his rounds one day and remains missing for more than a week. Dr. Lord has been a frequently absent but authoritative, demanding and loving über-dad who has left the day-to-day running of the family to Clementine's mother, an accomplished and highly educated woman who gave up her career to care for him and the girls. When it becomes apparent that Dr. Lord has told only Olivia where he is, schisms begin to divide the triplets and their mother in new ways. Olivia and Odette no longer seem quite as much alike or united. Their mother's utter faith in her husband begins to crack. And Clementine realizes that her friendship with Cameron's roommate Eli, who is doing graduate work in Princeton, is deeper and perhaps less platonic than she's tried to believe. Dr. Lord's secret is anticlimactic. But the novel is less concerned with the vaguely out-of-sync details of Dr. Lord's crimes than with the coming-into-selfhood of Clementine.

At its best, the novel delves into the sister relationships, but the triplet hook only goes so far to mitigate the annoying entitlement of the characters and the heavy-handed if familiar plot.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451623680
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 7/5/2011
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 638,865
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 8.28 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Gwendolen Gross

Gwendolen Gross is the author of five critically acclaimed novels, including The Orphan Sister and The Other Mother. She has worked with porcupines and kinkajous as a science demonstrator, on mountain tops as a naturalist, as an editor, opera singer, writing instructor, and mom. She lives in Northern New Jersey with her husband, daughter, and son.

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Read an Excerpt


When my sister Odette called to tell me Dad hadn’t shown up for rounds, my first guilty thought was that he’d had a heart attack on the Garden State Parkway, that his Benz had swerved, swiveled, and scraped against the railing near exit 142 until it flipped into the opposite lane like a beetle on its back, ready for the picking of crows. He’d fumbled for the aspirin he always kept in the cup holder, in a wood and silver pillbox he couldn’t unclasp when it mattered at last. Blood would mat the silvery-red mix of his still-thick hair, his eyes would be open, he’d be dead, and I’d never have a chance to prove him wrong.

Of course, my second thought was to feel horrible for my first.

“No, he didn’t say anything to me,” I said. I almost suggested she call Olivia, but I knew she didn’t need to, because Odette and Olivia, my twin sisters, know each other’s opinions, their desires and mistakes, without speaking in words. Though sometimes I am party to this peculiar frequency, sometimes I stand feeling like the last chosen for a team because they are identical twins, and I am their triplet, number three. I don’t match physically (they are four inches taller than I and my eyes are hazel green to their clear, cold blue) or hear as clearly in the ether of their silent communication.

“I think I’ll try Mom again,” said Odette. She was using her distinctive stage whisper that meant she wanted everyone standing in that hospital room at Robert Wood Johnson to know she was conducting important business on her cell phone. She was allowed to have a cell phone. She was a doctor.

“I can,” I sighed, thinking I didn’t want to.

“Just wait,” asserted Odette, but we both already knew I’d procrastinate awhile and then go seek out Mom.

“Dinner he would miss—rounds, no. I’ll start and give him another hour,” Odette finished.

If I were talking to anyone else, I’d have been unable to relinquish my frustration. Even Olivia didn’t root me to myself like magnet to steel.

I did feel calmer when I heard both my sisters’ voices. And I could tell them apart—Odette’s had an almost imperceptible deepness, a quiet, sad quality, a clarinet, while Olivia was all flute, in all circumstances. No one else could hear this, however.

We were polyzygots—they were identical, monozygotic, one egg and one sperm met and then split into two zygotes. I was fraternal—another egg, another sperm, but the same timing, which means I was like an ordinary sibling in terms of genetic material, and they were halves of a whole.

We had this special triplet quirk called Party Trick we developed in elementary school, time of Ouija boards and Monopoly (you would never want to play a strategy game with us; we knew how to team up and committed our own form of natural selection): we could speak word by word, each of us in turn, with the fluidity and natural cadence of a single person speaking. We were sleepover favorites when we were little; this was captivating, no matter how dull the subject. “We” “don’t” “like” “ham” “because” “it’s” “too” “salty.” It wasn’t practiced. We had a pact to do it whenever one of us asked—something we used rarely as adults, but still, it was always there, ability, connections, quirk, Party Trick.

In the middle of this crisis, I was struggling with my computer, trying to gain access to an online exam I needed to take in the next twenty-four hours. The server rejected my password. I was all ready, notes, coffee softened with Ghirardelli chocolate powder and half-and-half, a final exam indulgence. I had a bag of carrots and a bag of cheddar bagel chips and a giant sports bottle of water, even though I knew, from my undergraduate research, that bottled water is less stringently regulated than tap. I had my blanket and my most devoted mutt, Alphabet, who was lying on my feet as if he knew I wouldn’t walk him until I’d at least half finished the timed exam. You could only log out and back on once. I had to get an A. I hadn’t done as well on the lab portion as I meant to, but that was because I’d broken up with Feet (officially Ferdinand, an engineering graduate student from Spain who had fabulous dimples and little regard for my privacy), my brief boyfriend whose nickname should have kept me from giving him my phone number in the first place.

Sitting ready at my desk, I tried to log on. I used my password, dogdocClem, but the system said it was invalid. Dad always did this: he made us worry. He blustered in at family gatherings and brushed away queries about his lateness like lint from a suit. But somehow we all worried he was Not Okay—and I was the especial queen of worrying this—as if his Okayness held together the very universe.

I tried again, pounding the keys as I typed in my account number and the password. I was still invalid. I felt invalid. My head throbbed and I was still wondering whether Dad was all right. So instead of starting my exam, I apologized to Alphabet, restarted my computer, and got up to go see my mother.

Maybe he ran away, I thought, as I walked up to the conservatory. My father had built two additions for my mother: an art studio, because she had once casually mentioned she might like to take art classes again, and the conservatory of flowers, a long, inventive, difficult-to-maintain greenhouse that extended from the back kitchen into the lawn. She was usually there, my mother, though we had full-time gardeners for the roses and the vegetables that would be transplanted, after the last frost, into a raised plot by the three maidens’ fountain. Mom made exquisite botanical drawings, having taken a class at the New York Botanical Garden before we were born. Sometimes I thought she was simply a woman of too many talents and opportunities—each was diluted in the soup of all her possibilities.

Maybe he went up to the house in Vermont because he is getting senile and thought it was summer vacation. Maybe he’s had enough of keeping everything gripped in his fist and he let go; he went mad, like King George III.

I’d been mulling, for about six months, the possibility that my father might have early dementia, or even Alzheimer’s. I’d researched the topic when I should have been studying chemistry. Symptom one: memory loss that disrupts daily life. This was a disruption, for sure, though generally his focus on—and memory of—family commitments and plans had always been rigorously limited. Symptom two: challenges in planning or solving problems. No. Yes. Maybe. He had twice had Mom reschedule her plans for an anniversary party because he had forgotten about other commitments. But this wasn’t new.

“I’m going to have to go to the golf outing,” he said, the second time. “You don’t have to come.” My mother had sighed, dialing her party planner.

Symptom three: trouble with tasks at home, work, or leisure. No. He seemed to have no problems with work. Until now—not showing up for rounds. I was probably getting ahead of myself. I never used to get ahead of myself; I used to let the world unroll like a scroll, the beginning happening before the middle and the end, but ever since Cameron, I’d wanted more dimensions, I’d worried more about the unrevealed paper.

So when Odette called I should have just waited, I should have circumnavigated the mess of other people’s early and late, but I was a triplet, and triplets have extra arms, extra eyes, extra marginally obsessive worries. I thought of my father standing by his car, staring at his keys as if they were foreign objects. Last week, I’d been witness behind the carriage-house curtain as he stood like that for a moment; was he thinking, or was he lost inside his own head? Was this the beginning of a crumbled father? The beginning of interventions and wheelchairs? No. No. Maybe.

© 2011 Gwendolen Gross

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 1, 2011

    Very interesting book...

    I really enjoyed reading it.. Lots of thoughtful points.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The Orphan Sister

    Finding the path to one's own identity is a story in and of itself, but to be one of three brings about a number of additional complexities. Gwendolen Gross writes a multifaceted story of Clementine Lords' journey in finding her own path. Clementine is a singleton who was born a triplet with identical twin sister's Odette and Olivia. She is one with them and yet she is different and not the same as them. She is the odd sister out.

    When Clementine's father goes missing she is pressed to deal with her long standing family issues. A father she loved, hated, wanted his approval, rebelled against, didn't trust and longed to trust. A mother she felt who hide herself away in her husband's shadow not fully living up to the strong, smart, independent woman Clementine believed she could be. Her identical twin sisters, who she longed to be one with and at the same time wanted to be different than. While dealing with these numerous family emotions, she is also dealing with finding peace and moving on after losing her 'other half'.

    As Clementine moves forward in finding out where her father went, she has flashbacks of her childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. These flashbacks allow the reader to gain a deeper and greater understanding to the complexity of Clementine. She has a deep need for acceptance and wants to know she is just as much a part of the family as the rest of the 'flock'. Clementine learns you become your own woman when you no longer look for acceptance from others, but from yourself and to not let other peoples' lives dominate ours.

    Truthfully, the only thing in regard to The Orphan Sister I didn't like was I didn't have someone to talk to about it! Gwendolen Gross is an amazingly smart writer! She writes beautifully! The book is in a constant state of movement diving into the complexities of family. Even though I'm very different than Clementine I could really relate to her desire to feel safe and accepted. Her relationship with her father (though different) made me reflect on my own relationship with mine. I'd love to go on and on discussing the end of the book, but I do not want to spoil the story for any of you.

    I absolutely recommend The Orphan Sister and if you are in a book club this is a must read!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 27, 2011

    Super Summer Read

    Wow. I wanted to cry when this book ended. I was so completely engaged in the story, the vivid descriptions of life situations with which I can relate, and Gross' elegant, sensual prose---I was completely unprepared for the story to end. My idea of a great book is when you continue to hear the voices and storyline in your mind long after you have put the book down. This book is such a page-turner, I read it in 2 days (unusual for me). This is a powerful story that looks at the love underneath ALL relationships, especially family relationships. But it isn't that tired old dysfunctional family story. This book shows the redemptive power in both familial and romantic love, no matter what the tragedies of life's circumstances. This is a writer with depth, storytelling talent, and gorgeous, sophisticated prose.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Best Book Ever- highly recommend!

    I just finished this brilliant novel - so intoxicating! I spent the weekend reading it and finished in the early hours of Sunday (this) morning - when my house was quiet and the kiddos asleep and I could truly focus on the story and being swept away in it. I loved this novel - it has everything I enjoy in a book: sisterhood, family drama, a bit of a mystery, complex relationships, amazing and delicious characters (primary and secondary), brilliant, magical and lyrical writing (I immediately went on a hunt for everything the author has written), a strong and interesting point of view. Gwendolen Gross has so much confidence as a storyteller, the dialogue is truly some of the best I've read. Beautiful story - I highly, truly, deeply recommend.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012


    It started out okay but then it got so boring. I read the reviews everyone loved it. I was so disappointed. Dont waste your money.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 20, 2011

    A Must Read!

    This story opens to a family in crisis, and through this prism, we come to know triplet sisters and their parents, spouses and lovers. The triplets are two identical twins and a singleton, and in the telling of this story, we come to understand that all are "orphan sisters" in their own ways. Even the identical twins, who live parallel lives, with matching professions (ob/gyn and pediatrician), minimansions, and even pregnancies, are revealed to be solitary creatures, battling feelings of isolation and loneliness. And as the story unfolds, the singleton sister, who both fears and welcomes her uniqueness, comes to understand that she is an integral part of the larger whole, cherished and adored. As this protagonist concludes, "we are sisters together, but not alone."

    The language is beautiful throughout, evoking images of a leafy, lush childhood and privileged adulthood, set in Princeton, Oberlin and San Francisco. Gross welcomes us into this place, populated by intriguing characters, whose foibles and flaws make the
    endearing and believable. And the changes that are foisted upon them may not be welcome, but ultimately shape them in ways that strengthen their ties to each other. So even though the father throws the family off balance by "pressing his thumb on a perfectly balanced scale," each character learns that she can regain her equilibrium, even apart from the others. Gross provides us with an insightful, witty, and tender portrait of individuals who come to realize that they may not know each other as well as they thought they did, but ultimately, who choose to come together as family.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A Little Self-Indulgent

    _The_Orphan_Sister_ jumps from past to present in a way that is quite jarring. I really wanted to care about Clementine and her family, but the writing was incredibly self-indulgent and overblown. It's certainly not the worst thing I've ever read, but I wouldn't buy another piece by Gwendolyn Gross. I would, however, borrow it to give it a try.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2013


    Could you adopt me as your own kit? I also need you to spend time with me at least once a day. I am almost three moons old.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2012

    It sound good

    It sounds good cant wait to read

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 14, 2011

    HIGHLY recommend The Orphan Sister!

    Let me just say that I loved it so much that I already purchased one of her other books (via e-books), The Other Mother! This book pulls you right in with a family drama right on page 1! From there on, I just had to keep reading and turning pages. In the beginning of the book, I was a little miffed at Clementine and her mother. It seemed they either didn't want to deal with "issues" or were naive or something. Boy was I obtain an understanding while the story unfolds (especially Clementine) and of course, it all comes together.

    Gwendolen Gross has an amazing talent to tell a story with characters you can't forget and want to know more about them and their lives. She writes is so beautifully. I really enjoyed that a good part of the story took place at Oberlin....loved the Ohio references.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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