The Story Sisters

( 113 )

Overview

From the New York Times Bestselling
Author of The Third Angel

Alice Hoffman’s previous novel, The Third Angel, was hailed as "an unforgettable portrait of the depth of true love" (USA Today), "stunning" (Jodi Picoult), and "spellbinding" (Miami Herald). Her new novel, The Story Sisters, charts the lives of three sisters–Elv, Claire, and Meg. Each has a fate she must meet alone: one on a country road, one in the streets of Paris, and one in the...

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Overview

From the New York Times Bestselling
Author of The Third Angel

Alice Hoffman’s previous novel, The Third Angel, was hailed as "an unforgettable portrait of the depth of true love" (USA Today), "stunning" (Jodi Picoult), and "spellbinding" (Miami Herald). Her new novel, The Story Sisters, charts the lives of three sisters–Elv, Claire, and Meg. Each has a fate she must meet alone: one on a country road, one in the streets of Paris, and one in the corridors of her own imagination. Inhabiting their world are a charismatic man who cannot tell the truth, a neighbor who is not who he appears to be, a clumsy boy in Paris who falls in love and stays there, a detective who finds his heart’s desire, and a demon who will not let go.

What does a mother do when one of her children goes astray? How does she save one daughter without sacrificing the others? How deep can love go, and how far can it take you? These are the questions this luminous novel asks.

At once a coming-of-age tale, a family saga, and a love story of erotic longing, The Story Sisters sifts through the miraculous and the mundane as the girls become women and their choices haunt them, change them and, finally, redeem them. It confirms Alice Hoffman’s reputation as "a writer whose keen ear for the measure struck by the beat of the human heart is unparalleled" (The Chicago Tribune).

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Hoffman’s characters are always moving back and forth, challenging our perceptions, daring us to judge them. Her sentences tremble with allegory. . . . In the end, THE STORY SISTERS, for all its magic realism, is about a family navigating through motherhood, sisterhood, daughterhood. It’s Little Women on mushrooms. (Bookish sisters beware).”
New York Times Book Review

“Hoffman is celebrated for her ability to conjure plausible alternative realities, to sprinkle her landscapes with witches and other mythical creatures, while keeping her stories closely tethered to familiar terrain. There’s a mysticism that swirls about her works but, like a late-morning fog, it eventually burns off to reveal a physical and emotional topography that most all of us can recognize.”
Chicago Tribune

"This bewitching novel explores the bonds of sisterhood like a haunting modern fairy tale."
Glamour

“Any new book by Hoffman is an occasion to rejoice, as is the case with THE STORY SISTERS.”
Sacramento Bee

“The sisters’struggle to grow and thrive in the real world will keep you riveted to the pages of this heartbreaking novel about the powers and limits of love.”
Redbook

"When it comes to blending magic and the mundane routines of life, there's no finer writer than Alice Hoffman -- but even she has outdone herself with her latest novel.  THE STORY SISTERS hearkens back to the classic fairy tale, where one must suffer fear and loss before stumbling upon a happy ending.  Hoffman reminds us with every sentence that words have the power to transport us to alternate worlds, to heal a broken heart, and to tie us irrevocably to the people we love."
– Jodi Picoult, author of Handle With Care

“The always dazzling Hoffman has outdone herself in this bewitching weave of psychologically astute fantasy and shattering realism….this is an entrancing and romantic drama shot through with radiant beauty and belief in human resilience and transformation.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Painfully moving….there are beautiful moments throughout.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Keeps readers heartbroken yet spellbound, turning the pages.”
Library Journal

From the Hardcover edition.

Wendy Smith
​excessive and over-determined but ultimately so moving that it overwhelms these faults…a brilliantly detailed delineation of ever-shifting power relations among siblings and a beautiful portrait of love's redemptive power
—The Washington Post
Chelsea Cain
Hoffman has a child's dreamy eye, in the best possible sense. To her, the stuff grown-ups don't see anymore looms huge and important—insects banging on windowpanes, thunderstorms, a chestnut tree with a door to the "otherworld." She invents a realm where that sense of the fictive doesn't go away, where imagination and reality bleed together…In the end, The Story Sisters, for all its magic realism, is about a family navigating through motherhood, sisterhood, daughterhood. It's Little Women on mushrooms.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Lyrical but atypically monotonous, bestseller Hoffman's (The Third Angel) latest follows the dark family saga of Elv, Megan and Claire Story, sisters plagued by uncommon sadness. As a child, Elv spun fairy tales of a magical world for her sisters, but a period of savage sexual abuse-information about which slowly leaks out-sends her spiraling into years of drug addiction and painful self-abuse. Elv's story is unrelentingly grim, and without Hoffman's characteristic magic realism, its simple downward spiral becomes exhausting. Tragedy after tragedy befalls the family-Elv's commitment to a juvenile rehab facility, a deadly accident, a fatal illness and betrayal after betrayal. When the last third of the book turns to focus on Claire, who has been so damaged by the family crises that she refuses to speak, the slight glimmers of hope and goodness are too little, too late. Hoffman's prose is as lovely as ever: the imagined and real worlds of the Story sisters are rich and clear, but Elv's troubles and the Story family's nonstop catastrophes are wearying. (June)

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Booklist
The always dazzling Hoffman has outdone herself . . . .Her alluring characters are soulful, their suffering mythic, and though the sorrows are many and the body count high, this is an entrancing and romantic drama shot through with radiant beauty and belief in human resilience and transformation. Starred Review
New York Times Book Review
Hoffman's characters are always moving back and forth, challenging our perceptions, daring us to judge them. Her sentences tremble with allegory. . . . In the end, The Story Sisters, for all its magic realism, is about a family navigating through motherhood, sisterhood, daughterhood. It's Little Women on mushrooms. (Bookish sisters beware).
Library Journal

Once upon a time on Long Island, there were three Story sisters: Elv, Meg, and Claire. Aged 12 to 15, they were all beautiful and well behaved, with long, dark hair and pale eyes. They lived in magical harmony, speaking a private, shared language. Their parents were divorced, and the sisters visited their grandparents in Paris every spring. But their mother, Annie, feels increasingly left out of her daughters' lives. Indeed, darkness is soon to fall. Elv's belief in a secret underworld spins out of control, and she begins using drugs and stealing. Sent away to reform school, she falls in love with a man who is a heroin addict. There are betrayals and accidents, Annie falls ill, and the Story family disintegrates before our eyes. This is one of Hoffman's darkest novels yet, and some of Hoffman's readers may find it too dark. But name recognition advises purchase of multiple copies for libraries, and hope for the family's healing keeps readers, heartbroken yet spellbound, turning the pages. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/1/09.]
—Keddy Ann Outlaw

Kirkus Reviews
An act of child abuse has lasting consequences in Hoffman's painfully moving novel (The Third Angel, 2008, etc.). The summer Claire Story was 8 and her sister Elv was 11, a man tried to abduct Claire in his car; Elv jumped in, told Claire to jump out, and it was hours before she returned. They never told their mother Annie or middle sister Meg-their father walked out that same summer-and neither girl was ever the same. As the main narrative opens, when Elv is 15, she's becoming an out-of-control adolescent increasingly at odds with careful, rule-following Meg. Racked with guilt over the unknown horrors her sister endured in her place, Claire tries to be loyal, but as Elv's drug use and promiscuity escalate, she backs away. The desperate Annie finally takes Elv to a rehab facility, enlisting the reluctant support of her selfish ex-husband, who insists it's all her fault. At the facility, Elv meets Lorry, a thief and addict who introduces her to heroin, but who also really loves her. The chronology speeds up after Elv comes home and a dreadful accident seals her alienation from her family. Hoffman paints wrenching scenes of tentative efforts at reconciliation that just barely fail, as Elv becomes pregnant and cleans up, but loses Lorry to his "fatal flaw." A kindly detective brings late-life happiness to Annie and metes out delayed justice to Elv's abuser, but the disasters keep coming. Two sisters grow into adulthood, dreadfully damaged by the losses they've endured and their punishing self-blame for the mistakes they made. Hoffman's habitual allusions to mysterious supernatural forces are very jarring in this context, as is the endless interpolation of memories from the terribleabduction; she could have trusted her readers to get the point with out constant prodding. A radiant denouement shows love redeeming the surviving sisters, and there are beautiful moments throughout, but they don't entirely compensate for Hoffman's excesses of plot and tone. A near-miss from this uneven but always compelling writer. 8-city author tour (cities upon request)
The Barnes & Noble Review
Alice Hoffman's prose is nearly gorgeous enough to console us for the tragedies The Story Sisters. It is a book about demons and family bonds; it is very much a work about sisterhood. Jealousy figures in, as do loyalty, protection, friendship, and shifting alliances. The novel begins with the three sisters as young girls, troubling and fascinating daughters to their loving divorcée mother, Annie. We meet them at the Plaza Hotel, dressed in blues that both set them apart and link them: "Teal and azure and sapphire. They liked to wear similar clothes and confuse people as to who was who." Elv, the eldest, is "the most beautiful"; Meg is "a great reader" and Claire, the youngest, is "diligent, kindhearted, never one to shirk chores." When they speak a private language to each other -- "lovely to hear, musical" -- most people are "charmed." But the charm cannot protect the girls themselves -- if anything their virtues seem to call down disaster.

The novel follows this family -- whose punning surname really is "Story" -- through the tumultuous course of their lives, and takes place in nearly magical realms: seaside Long Island, New York City, Paris. If there is grief enough to spare, blow after blow of unbearable loss, moments of grace also abound, and Hoffman keeps pulling characters out of her sleeve till the final pages of book -- a sure sign of a master of fiction. (Doestoevsky always has one 11th-hour heroine or villain in his toolbox; so, too, does Dickens.) Even the most minor characters leave an indelible impression, like these two ominous counselors at a private school for wayward youth: "They seemed like prizefighters or bouncers in a nightclub. They wore black rain jackets and work boots. They were standing in the rain, waiting. If Annie could have felt anything, she might have been flooded with second thoughts. She might have made Alan turn the car around. But she was paralyzed."

Hoffman brilliantly delineates the face of bereavement in the aftermath of a family disaster: mother and sister "stayed home all winter. They didn't shovel the snow on the walkway....They wandered into the kitchen and grabbed a bite of cheese or a cracker. They didn't trouble to use dishes anymore, only ate standing up, crouched over the sink or using paper napkins. They reminded Natalia of the dogs one sometimes saw in certain neighborhoods of Paris, wild and uncared for, dangerous to the touch." Hoffman's spare, terse method of constructing sentences adds to the haunting quality of the book and underscores its poetry. ("She wasn't the least bit spooked when the leaves on the trees rattled, always a sign of rain. The rain in Paris was beautiful, anyway, cold and clean and green.")

Elv, the ravaged, angry heroine of the book, is especially memorable, both in her disintegration and in her efforts to redeem herself. Her name suggests her connection to a magical, alternative world, and her personality seems even to her mother a thorny mystery: "Her oldest girl sat up in the hawthorn tree late at night; she said she was looking at stars, but she was there even on cloudy nights, her black hair even blacker against the sky. Annie was certain that people who said daughters were easy had never had girls of their own." Elv's difficulties evolve from childhood eccentricity to self-mutilation to drug addiction. Even as a young girl she is wary, for good reason. Her exceptional beauty proves both a blessing and a curse.

Elv put her sweater on, even though the room was quite warm. The waiter had been skulking around, trying to get close to her, breathing on her hair, looking at her as if he knew something.

"Did you want something?" Mary Fox asked him.

"Don't talk to him," Elv said.

The sisters escape from the brutality of the real world around them to a made-up world they call Arnelle, with its own language, characters, and customs.

Arnelle was everything the human world was not. Speech was unnecessary. Treachery was out of the question. It was a world where no one could take you by surprise or tell you a mouthful of lies. You could see someone's heart through his chest and know if he was a goblin, a mortal, or a true hero. You could divine a word's essence by a halo of color -- red was false, white was true, yellow was the foulest of lies. There were no ropes to tie you, no stale bread, no one to shut and lock the door.

True heroes are rare in The Story Sisters, out-and-out villains even rarer, but not a single character fails to come to life under Hoffman's capable hand. As with any good story, one encounters birth and death, surprise twists of fate. Lovable characters sometimes come to terrible ends, and terrible characters turn themselves toward good. The justice one encounters in this world is more like the justice of the Grimm Brothers than the justice of a contemporary court of law. Speech and speechlessness, love and lovelessness do battle, as do primal forces of good and of evil. The book does flounder at times in the second half, pulled down by the weight of its own cumulative disasters. One or two plot twists ring false. But ultimately, Hoffman earns all of her dark moments.

Like sisters in a fairy tale, these three have their impossible tasks to accomplish: "one to find love, one to find peace, one to find herself." If one can bear the darkness of the journey, Alice Hoffman offers a remarkable new telling of an old, enduring story. -- Liz Rosenberg

Liz Rosenberg is the author of the novel Home Repair, published in May 2009 by HarperAvon, and of two recent books of poems, Demon Love (Mammoth Books) and The Lily Poems (Bright Hills). A book columnist for The Boston Globe, she also teaches English and Creative Writing at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307405968
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/1/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 186,172
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Alice  Hoffman
ALICE HOFFMAN is the bestselling author of twenty-five acclaimed novels, including The Third Angel, The Ice Queen, Practical Magic, and Here on Earth, an Oprah Book Club selection. She has also written two books of short stories, and eight books for children and young adults. Her work has been translated into more than twenty languages and published in more than one hundred foreign editions. She divides her time between Boston and New York City.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

Born in the 1950s to college-educated parents who divorced when she was young, Alice Hoffman was raised by her single, working mother in a blue-collar Long Island neighborhood. Although she felt like an outsider growing up, she discovered that these feelings of not quite belonging positioned her uniquely to observe people from a distance. Later, she would hone this viewpoint in stories that captured the full intensity of the human experience.

After high school, Hoffman went to work for the Doubleday factory in Garden City. But the eight-hour, supervised workday was not for her, and she quit before lunch on her first day! She enrolled in night school at Adelphi University, graduating in 1971 with a degree in English. She went on to attend Stanford University's Creative Writing Center on a Mirrellees Fellowship. Her mentor at Stanford, the great teacher and novelist Albert Guerard, helped to get her first story published in the literary magazine Fiction. The story attracted the attention of legendary editor Ted Solotaroff, who asked if she had written any longer fiction. She hadn't -- but immediately set to work. In 1977, when Hoffman was 25, her first novel, Property Of, was published to great fanfare.

Since that remarkable debut, Hoffman has carved herself a unique niche in American fiction. A favorite with teens as well as adults, she renders life's deepest mysteries immediately understandable in stories suffused with magic realism and a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility. (In a 1994 article for The New York Times, interviewer Ruth Reichl described the magic in Hoffman's books as a casual, regular occurrence -- "...so offhand that even the most skeptical reader can accept it.") Her characters' lives are transformed by uncontrollable forces -- love and loss, sorrow and bliss, danger and death.

Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick, but even without Winfrey's powerful endorsement, her books have become huge bestsellers -- including three that have been adapted for the movies: Practical Magic (1995), The River King (2000), and her YA fable Aquamarine (2001).

Hoffman is a breast cancer survivor; and like many people who consider themselves blessed with luck, she believes strongly in giving back. For this reason, she donated her advance from her 1999 short story collection Local Girls to help create the Hoffman Breast Center at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA.

Good To Know

  • Hoffman has written a number of children's books, including Fireflies: A Winter's Tale(1999), Horsefly (2000), and Moondog (2004).

  • Aquamarine was written for Hoffman's best friend, Jo Ann, who dreamed of the freedom of mermaids as she battled brain cancer.

  • Here on Earth is a modern version of Hoffman's favorite novel, Wuthering Heights.

  • Hoffman has been honored with the Massachusetts Book Award for her teen novel Incantation.
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      1. Hometown:
        Boston, Massachusetts
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 16, 1952
      2. Place of Birth:
        New York, New York
      1. Education:
        B.A., Adelphi University, 1973; M.A., Stanford University, 1974
      2. Website:

    Read an Excerpt

    Chapter 1

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    Once a year there was a knock at the door. Two times, then nothing. No one else heard, only me. Even when I was a baby in my cradle. My mother didn’t hear. My father didn’t hear. My sisters continued sleeping. But the cat looked up.

    When I was old enough I opened the door. There she was. A lady wearing a gray coat. She had a branch from a hawthorn tree, the one that grew outside my window. She spoke, but I didn’t know her language. A big wind had come up and the door slammed shut. When I opened it again, she was gone.

    But I knew what she wanted.

    Me.

    The one word I’d understood was daughter.

    I asked my mother to tell me about the day I was born. She couldn’t remember. I asked my father. He had no idea. My sisters were too young to know where I’d come from. When the gray lady next came, I asked the same question. I could tell from the look on her face. She knew the answer. She went down to the marsh, where the tall reeds grew, where the river began. I ran to keep up. She slipped into the water, all gray and murky. She waited for me to follow. I didn’t think twice. I took off my boots. The water was cold. I went under fast.

    It was April in New York City and from the window of their room at the Plaza Hotel everything looked bright and green. The Story sisters were sharing a room on the evening of their grandparents’ fiftieth anniversary party. Their mother trusted them completely. They were not the sort of teenagers who would steal from the minibar only to wind up drunk in the hallway, sprawled out on the carpet or nodding off in a doorway, embarrassing themselves and their families. They would never hang out the window to wave away cigarette smoke or toss water balloons onto unsuspecting pedestrians below. They were diligent, beautiful girls, well behaved, thoughtful. Most people were charmed to discover that the girls had a private, shared language. It was lovely to hear, musical. When they spoke to each other, they sounded like birds.

    The eldest girl was Elisabeth, called Elv, now fifteen. Meg was only a year younger, and Claire had just turned twelve. Each had long dark hair and pale eyes, a startling combination. Elv was a disciplined dancer, the most beautiful in many people’s opinions, the one who had invented the Story sisters’ secret world. Meg was a great reader and was never without a book; while walking to school she often had one open in her hands, so engrossed she would sometimes trip while navigating familiar streets. Claire was diligent, kindhearted, never one to shirk chores. Her bed was made before her sisters opened their sleepy eyes. She raked the lawn and watered the garden and always went to sleep on time. All were self-reliant and practical, honor students any parents would be proud to claim as their own. But when the girls’ mother came upon them chattering away in that language no one else could understand, when she spied maps and graphs that meant nothing to her, that defined another world, her daughters made her think of clouds, something far away and inaccessible.

    Annie and the girls’ father had divorced four years earlier, the summer of the gypsy moths when all of the trees in their yard were bare, the leaves chewed by caterpillars. You could hear crunching in the night. You could see silvery cocoon webbing in porch rafters and strung across stop signs. People said there were bound to be hard times ahead for the Storys. Alan was a high school principal, his schedule too full for many visits. He’d been the one who’d wanted out of the marriage, and after the split he’d all but disappeared. At the age of forty-seven, he’d become a ladies’ man, or maybe it was simply that there weren’t many men around at that stage of the game. Suddenly he was in demand. There was another woman in the background during the breakup. She’d quickly been replaced by a second girlfriend the Story sisters had yet to meet. But so far there had been no great disasters despite the divorce and all of the possible minefields that accompanied adolescence. Annie and her daughters still lived in the same house in North Point Harbor, where a big hawthorn tree grew outside the girls’ bedroom window. People said it had been there before Long Island was settled and that it was the oldest tree for miles around. In the summertime much of the Storys’ yard was taken up with a large garden filled with rows of tomato plants. There was a stone birdbath at the center and a latticework trellis that was heavy with climbing sweet peas and tremulous, prickly cucumber vines. The Story sisters could have had small separate bedrooms on the first floor, but they chose to share the attic. They preferred one another’s company to rooms of their own. When Annie heard them behind the closed door, whispering conspiratorially to each other in that secret vocabulary of theirs, she felt left out in some deep, hurtful way. Her oldest girl sat up in the hawthorn tree late at night; she said she was looking at stars, but she was there even on cloudy nights, her black hair even blacker against the sky. Annie was certain that people who said daughters were easy had never had girls of their own.

    Today the Story sisters were all in blue. Teal and azure and sapphire. They liked to wear similar clothes and confuse people as to who was who. Usually they wore jeans and T-shirts, but this was a special occasion. They adored their grandmother Natalia, whom they called Ama, a name Elv had bestowed upon her as a toddler. Their ama was Russian and elegant and wonderful. She’d fallen in love with their grandfather in France. Although the Rosens lived on Eighty- ninth Street, they kept their apartment where Natalia had lived as a young woman in the Marais district of Paris, near the Place du Marché- Sainte-Catherine, and as far as the Story sisters were concerned, it was the most wonderful spot in the world.

    Annie and the girls visited once a year. They were infatuated with Paris. They had dreams of long days filled with creamy light and meals that lasted long into the hazy blur of evening. They loved French ice cream and the glasses of blue-white milk. They studied beautiful women and tried to imitate the way they walked, the way they tied their scarves so prettily. They always traveled to France for spring vacation. The chestnut tree in the courtyard was in bloom then, with its scented white flowers.

    The Plaza was probably the second-best place in the world. Annie went to the girls’ room to find her daughters clustered around the window, gazing at the horse-drawn carriages down below. From a certain point of view the sisters looked like women, tall and beautiful and poised, but they were still children in many ways, the younger girls especially. Meg said that when she got married she wanted to ride in one of those carriages. She would wear a white dress and carry a hundred roses. The girls’ secret world was called Arnelle. Arnish for rose was minta. It was the single word Annie understood. Alana me sora minta, Meg was saying. Roses wherever you looked.

    “How can you think about that now?” Elv gestured out the window. She was easily outraged and hated mistreatment of any sort. “Those carriage horses are malnourished,” she informed her sister.

    Elv had always been an animal fanatic. Years ago she’d found a rabbit, mortally wounded by a lawn mower’s blades, left to bleed to death in the velvety grass of the Weinsteins’ lawn. She’d tried her best to nurse it to health, but in the end the rabbit had died in a shoebox, covered up with a doll’s blanket. Afterward she and Meg and Claire had held a funeral, burying the shoebox beneath the back porch, but Elv had been inconsolable. If we don’t take care of the creatures who have no voice, she’d whispered to her sisters, then who will? She tried to do exactly that. She left out seeds for the mourning doves, opened cans of tuna fish for stray cats, set out packets of sugar for the garden moths. She had begged for a dog, but her mother had neither the time nor the patience for a pet. Annie wasn’t about to disrupt their home life. She had no desire to add another personality to the mix, not even that of a terrier or a spaniel.

    Elv was wearing the darkest of the dresses, a deep sapphire, the one her sisters coveted. They wanted to be everything she was and traipsed after her faithfully. The younger girls were rapt as she ranted on about the carriage horses. “They’re made to ride around without food or water all day long. They’re worked until they’re nothing but skin and bones.”

    “Skin and bones” was a favorite phrase of Elv’s. It got to the brutal point. The secret universe she had created was a faery realm where women had wings and it was possible to read thoughts. Arnelle was everything the human world was not. Speech was unnecessary, treachery out of the question. It was a world where no one could take you by surprise or tell you a mouthful of lies. You could see someone’s heart through his chest and know if he was a goblin, a mortal, or a true hero. You could divine a word’s essence by a halo of color—red was false, white was true, yellow was the foulest of lies. There were no ropes to tie you, no iron bars, no stale bread, no one to shut and lock the door.

    Elv had begun to whisper Arnelle stories to her sisters during the bad summer when she was eleven. It was hot that August; the grass had turned brown. In other years summer had been Elv’s favorite season—no school, long days, the bay only a bicycle ride away from their house on Nightingale Lane. But that summer all she’d wanted was to lock herself away with her sisters. They hid in their mother’s garden, beneath the trailing pea vines. The tomato plants were veiled by a glinting canopy of bottle-green leaves. The younger girls were eight and ten. They didn’t know there were demons on earth, and Elv didn’t have the heart to tell them. She brushed the leaves out of her sisters’ hair. She would never let anyone hurt them. The worst had already happened, and she was still alive. She couldn’t even say the words

    for what had happened, not even to Claire, who’d been with her that day, who’d managed to get away because Elv had implored her to run.

    When she first started to tell her sisters stories, she asked for them to close their eyes and pretend they were in the otherworld. It was easy, she said. Just let go of this world. They’d been stolen by mortals, she whispered, given a false family. They’d been stripped of their magic by the charms humans used against faeries: bread, metal, rope. The younger girls didn’t complain when their clothes became dusted with dark earth as they lay in the garden, although Meg, always so tidy, stood in the shower afterward and soaped herself clean. In the real world, Elv confided, there were pins, spindles, beasts, fur, claws. It was a fairy tale in reverse. The good and the kind lived in the otherworld, down twisted lanes, in the woods where trout lilies grew. True evil could be found walking down Nightingale Lane. That’s where it happened.

    They were coming home from the bay. Meg had been sick so she’d stayed home. It was just the two of them. When the man in the car told Claire to get in the backseat, she did. She recognized him from school. He was one of the teachers. She was wearing her bathing suit. It was about to rain and she thought he was doing them a favor. But he started driving away before her sister got into the car. Elv ran alongside and banged on the car door, yelling for him to let her sister out. He stopped long enough to grab her and drag her inside, too. He stepped on the gas, still holding on to Elv. “Reunina lee,” Elv said. It was the first time she spoke Arnish. The words came to her as if by magic. By magic, Claire understood. I came to rescue you.

    At the next stop sign, Claire opened the door and ran.

    Arnelle was so deep under the ground you had to descend more than a thousand steps. There were three sisters there, Elv had told Claire. They were beautiful and loyal, with pale eyes and long, black hair.

    “Like us,” Claire always said, delighted.

    If they concentrated, if they closed their eyes, they could always find their way back to the otherworld. It was beneath the tall hawthorn tree in the yard, beneath the chestnut tree in Paris. Two doorways no one else could get past. No one could hurt you there or tear you into pieces. No one could put a curse on you or lock you away. Once you went down the underground stairs and went through the gate there were roses even when snow fell in the real world, when the drifts were three feet deep.

    Most people were seized by the urgency of Elv’s stories, and her sisters were no exception. At school, classmates gathered round her at lunchtime. She never spoke about Arnelle to anyone but her dear sisters, but that didn’t mean she didn’t have stories to tell. For her school friends she had tales of life on earth, stories of demons she didn’t want her sisters to hear. A demon usually said three words to put a curse on you. He cut you three times with a knife. Elv could see what the rest of them never could. She had “the sight,” she said. She predicted futures for girls in her history and math classes. She scared the hell out of some of them and told others exactly what they wanted to hear. Even in Paris when she went to visit her grandparents, the city was filled with demons. They prowled the streets and watched you as you slept. They came in through the window like black insects drawn to the light. They put a hand over your mouth, kept your head under water if you screamed. They came to get you if you ever dared tell and turned you to ash with one touch.

    Each day, the number of girls who gathered around Elv in the cafeteria increased. They circled around to hear her intoxicating tales, told with utter conviction. Demons wore black coats and thick- soled boots. The worst sort of goblin was the kind that could eat you alive. Just a kiss, miss. Just a bite.

    From the Hardcover edition.

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    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4
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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 113 Customer Reviews
    • Posted September 3, 2009

      I Also Recommend:

      A good read.

      I have loved all of Alice Hoffman's books, I've been reading her for years and years. This book is mature, full of great beauty and of sadness, like life. The sadness is the lesson that people who victimize children not only hurt the children but all the people around them, for years to come. The beauty, the strong point in all Hoffman's books is finding magic in nature, in spirit, and the people around us. I hope this one wins her the Pulitzer.

      12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 21, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      A Moving Family Tale

      Alice Hoffman is an author known for her novels filled with magical touches. Her latest, The Story Sisters, continues that, when a magical world created by three sisters collides with the reality of the world in which we all exist.

      Elizabeth, called Elv, Meg and Claire Story live with their mother in a small town on Long Island. Their parents are in the middle of a bad divorce, and it has affected the girls deeply. When they were young children, Elv (whose nickname connotes the fairy-like elves) created a fairy tale world, Arnelle, which had its own language. It slightly concerned their mother Annie when they would continue to speak this language, even as they grew out of childhood.

      This fantasy world contrasts with the physical world in which they live. Annie has a large garden, and grows heirloom tomatoes. The girls are knowledgeable in all areas tomato. They love animals. Elv is artistic, attracted to painting and color. Meg is a voracious reader, and a very good student. They sleep in the same bedroom, and are each other's best friends.

      The horrors of the real world intrude on the girls of Arnelle when a bad man hurts Elv, who saves the younger Claire from his clutches. They never tell anyone about "the day the bad thing happened", not even Meg. This bad thing, and her reluctance to tell her mother, causes Elv to act out. Annie is struggling too, "she felt as if everything she did was in halves: half a mother, half a teacher, half a woman". In that one sentence, Hoffman articulates the feelings of so many women.

      Elv begins to believe "that evil repelled evil, while good collected it", and she is determined to become evil in order to expel it from her life. She uses drugs, becomes promiscuous, steals- everything a young woman with low self esteem does to dull her pain. Meg is angered by her sister's behavior, but Claire vows to remain loyal to Elv. Elv's behavior breaks the bonds of sisterhood she so tenderly nurtured.

      Hoffman uses imagery and metaphors so beautifully. When Elv saves a kitten thrown into a river, she tells Claire that she is haunted because she couldn't save a second kitten thrown in. Claire reminds her that it is important that she saved one, but Elv can't get over that she couldn't save the other, echoing the fact that she saved Claire once, but was unable to save herself.

      The author's writing hits home with the reader, as when following a death, Annie's cousin says,"Call me the minute you need something," she told Annie and Claire, but neither of them could think of a single thing they might need that anyone could possibly give them. Everyone who has lost someone knows that exact feeling.

      This is a moving, haunting novel that will make you cry. There is so much sadness, so many tragic things that happen, and we all know people about whom we say, "haven't they suffered enough?" About a good man who becomes involved with the Story family, Hoffman writes: "He stayed in the kitchen with the dog for a while. He covered his face and wept. When he was done, he patted Shiloh's head. This wasn't his house or his family or his dog, but it was his sorrow."

      Hoffman broke my heart with this beautiful story of how secrets can destroy, but ultimately about the power of love to redeem. I became deeply invested in her characters, and will not be able to get them out of my thoughts. It is so powerful, so moving, it is the best of what fiction is.

      4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted September 6, 2009

      Very dark, disturbing subject matter

      It's Elizabeth Berg meets Jodi Picoult with a touch of haunting plot twists. This book was so disturbing that, when I got to a particular part on the book with yet ANOTHER reference to animal abuse, I threw it in the recycling bin. I didn't even want to donate it or pass it along. This made my nighttime reading habit very dismal, and I found it depressing. From a literary standpoint, however, Alice Hoffman addresses head-on the permanent consequences of temporary acts, and she delves into the behavioral changes and emotional tumult of a family in crisis with startling precision.

      3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted July 25, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      Imaginative

      Alice Hoffman weaves an imaginative story. Elv, Meg and Clare are wonderful characters, distinctive in their own stories as they grow up. Elv and Clare are forever bonded by something terrible that happens which cause Elv to pull apart from her family which seems to be the only way she can deal with it. Hoffman is trully a wonderful writer in that she is able to weave a mystical quality into her stories. Happy ending don't always happen no matter how much you want them to. I also loved how the grandmother is the hero as all grandmother's show grace and patience through their experience. This was a great book and I reccomend it to anyone who is a Hoffman fan. It will not disappoint.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 17, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      Touching But Sad

      Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors and I have read all of her books over and over again, even the young adult books.

      Unfortunately, this book, The Story Sisters did not provide the right entertainment for me. All through the book I kept asking myself, Why am I still reading this?

      It was sad and dark. Her characters were wonderful especially when the three sisters were young and then it took a dark turn after the first 100 pages.

      I wanted a read that left me feeling hope and goodness prevailed. I was, instead, left sad and depressed.

      I gave it three stars for writing and originality.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 5, 2009

      A brilliant Fairytale

      The Story Sisters is an unforgettable novel, half fairytale, half real life. I couldn't put it down. I rushed to get to the end and now I want to read it again, slowly.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 15, 2012

      Honestly, this is one of my favorite books! I don't understand w

      Honestly, this is one of my favorite books! I don't understand why everyone is saying it left them feeling sad, because I did not find the ending to be that way. I found it hopeful. Feel free to disagree!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 19, 2009

      I Also Recommend:

      A story that sticks with you til the end; Worth time & money

      "The Story Sisters" is a wonderful book. Once you continue reading it, you become immediately sucked into the fantasy/real world of Elv, Meg, and Claire. The book is divided into 3 acts and it has an unexpected twist. It's great to read before you go to bed. I think everyone can relate to at least one of the three sisters in some way or another. The story explores all emotions from depression, sadness, love, and in the end, happiness. Probably the only flaw is that sometimes the dialogue between the characters is a little corny/over dramatic. Read it slowly to enjoy it!!!!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 8, 2009

      Alice Hoffman's Best

      This is the best book that I have read in over a year. I couldn't put this book down and, when I wasn't reading it, I kept thinking about the characters. This is a very real and believable story. It is one of those books that you read and you know that you will always remember the characters.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted August 4, 2009

      Heart breaking and beautiful

      Alice Hoffman knows exactly how to break my heart. I was drawn to this novel, in part because Hoffman is one of my favorite writers, but mainly because the subject of sisters hits so close to home for me. This novel is so beautifully written and the characters are vibrant and original. Watching each character meet her individual fate is heart wrenching, yet I couldn't put it down. This book reminded me that while the world is full of sadness, it is also full of small triumphs and that it is the small moments of happiness that make life worth living.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted July 6, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      The story of the Storys

      I'm a adament reader of Hoffman's books and she still doesn't disappoint. Far from it. The Story Sisters is yet another story that reminds me why Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors. The way she writes and weaves and paints the story is literally a work of art.
      I found that even though the three sisters are different, each of them had traits that I could relate too. It shows how even the people you love do both great and horrible things and the realistic fight to still love them.
      After everything that happened, the ending was very satisfying.
      Well, I'm off to find another Alice Hoffman book. Cheers.

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted June 26, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      You will not be disappointed

      I haven't read anything by Alice Hoffman before, but I plan to after reading this. From the first chapter, I could not put it down. I am very hard to please when it comes to books (being an English literature and Creative Writing major will do that...) and very rarely find a book that impresses me so much. The writing syle was remarkable, language fresh, and so original. You must read this book!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted February 21, 2014

      Pure magic! A beautifully gifted writer.

      Pure magic! A beautifully gifted writer.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 5, 2012

      Could not put it down

      This was her first book i have read. Magical, she made me cry tears of joy and sadness. A jewel of a book !

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    • Anonymous

      Posted July 1, 2012

      Must Read

      What an incredible novel. Hoffman hit home on so many aspects of my life. Having lived and still living on Long Island really brings it to life. I could just picture the oh so familiar towns.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 26, 2011

      Not just teen angst

      I really loved this book! Each character had depth and flaws. Hoffman did a great job in having the characters grow and change before the reader's eyes . Definetely recommend it.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 22, 2011

      Great Book Club selection

      I really enjoyed this book. It is well written and an easy read, although the story line is a bit dark. I read this for a book club and we had quite a bit to discuss. Evryone in the group like the book

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    • Posted December 16, 2011

      Three sisters

      I really like this book because I am the oldest sister of three girls. I think what Hoffman was trying to point out was that even if all girls were in a same situation and had the same lifestyle, they still wound up differently. This I would very much agree with.

      And to the person that said something about animal abuse, I really don't know what positive light that was put on the subject. I think you just wanted an excuse to not read a book.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted December 16, 2011

      A book you can't put down

      This book was hard to put down and when you had to the characters staid with you. I can't wait to see what else she has written.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 28, 2011

      This is one of the best books I've ever read

      Seriously. Read it.

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