Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

by Rebecca Wells

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060759957
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/07/2004
Series: Ya-Ya Series , #1
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 133,259
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Lexile: 850L (what's this?)

About the Author

Writer, actor, and playwright Rebecca Wells is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Ya-Yas in Bloom, Little Altars Everywhere, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which was made into a feature film. A native of Louisiana, she now lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest.

Hometown:

An island near Seattle, Washington

Date of Birth:

1952

Place of Birth:

Alexandria, Louisiana

Education:

B.A., Louisiana State University; Graduate work, Louisiana State University and Naropa Institute

Read an Excerpt

Tap-dancing child abuser. That's what The Sunday New York Times from March 8, 1993, had called Vivi. The pages of the week-old Leisure Arts section lay scattered on the floor next to Sidda as she curled up in the bed, covers pulled tightly around her, portable phone on the pillow next to her head.

There had been no sign the theater critic would go for blood. Roberta Lydell had been so chummy, so sisterly-seeming during the interview that Sidda had felt she'd made a new girlfriend. After all, in her earlier review, Roberta had already proclaimed the production of Women on the Cusp, which Sidda had directed at Lincoln Center, to be "a miraculous event in American theater." With subtle finesse, the journalist had lulled Sidda into a cozy false sense of intimacy as she pumped her for personal information.

As Sidda lay in the bed, her cocker spaniel, Hueylene, crawled into the crook formed by her knees. For the past week, the cocker had been the only company Sidda had wanted. Not Connor McGill, her fianc‚. Not friends, not colleagues. Just the dog she'd named in honor of Huey Long.

She stared at the phone. Her relationship with her mother had never been smooth, but this latest episode was disastrous. For the umpteenth time that week, Sidda punched in the number of her parents' home at Pecan Grove. For the first time, she actually let it ring through.

At the sound of Vivi's hello, Sidda's stomach began to cramp.

"Mama? It's me."

Without hesitation, Vivi hung up.

Sidda punched automatic redial. Vivi picked up again, but did not speak.

"Mama, I know you're there. Please don't hang up. I'm so sorry this all happened. I'm really reallysorry. I--"

"There is nothing you can say or do to make me forgive you," Vivi said. "You are dead to me. You have killed me. Now I am killing you."

Sidda sat up in bed and tried to catch her breath.

"Mother, I did not mean for any of this to take place. The woman who interviewed me--"

"I have cut you out of my will. Do not be surprised if I sue you for libel. There are no photographs left of you on any of my walls. Do not--"

Sidda could see her mother's face, red with anger. She could see how her veins showed lavender underneath her light skin.

"Mama, please. I cannot control The New York Times. Did you read the whole thing? I said, 'My mother, Vivi Abbott Walker, is one of the most charming people in the world.'"

"'Charming wounded.' You said: 'My mother is one of the most charming wounded people in the world. And she is also the most dangerous.' I have it here in black-and-white, Siddalee."

"Did you read the part where I credited you for my creativity? Where I said, 'My creativity comes in a direct flow from my mother, like the Tabasco she used to spice up our baby bottles.' Mama, they ate it up when I talked about how you'd put on your tap shoes and dance for us while you fed us in our high chairs. They loved it."

"You lying little bitch. They loved it when you said: 'My mother comes from the old Southern school of child rearing where a belt across a child's bare skin was how you got your point across.'"

Sidda sucked in her breath.

"They loved it," Vivi continued, "when they read: 'Siddalee Walker, articulate, brilliant director of the hit show Women on the Cusp, is no stranger to family cruelty. As the battered child of a tap-dancing child abuser of a mother, she brings to her directing the rare and touching equipoise between personal involvement and professional detachment that is the mark of theatrical genius.'

"'Battered child!' This is shit! This is pure character-defaming shit from the most hideous child imaginable!"

Sidda could not breathe. She raised her thumb to her mouth and bit the skin around the nail, something she had not done since she was ten years old. She wondered where she'd put the Xanax.

"Mama, I never meant to hurt you. Many of those words I never even uttered to that damn journalist. I swear, I--"

"You Goddamn self-centered liar! It's no Goddamn wonder every relationship you have falls apart. You know nothing about love. You have a cruel soul. God help Connor McGill. He would have to be a fool to marry you."

Sidda got out of bed, her whole body shaking. She walked to the window of her twenty-second-floor apartment in Manhattan Plaza. From where she stood, she could see the Hudson River. It made her think of the Garnet River in Central Louisiana, and how red its water flowed.

Mama, you bitch, she thought. You devouring, melodramatic bitch. When she spoke, her voice was steely, controlled.

"What I said was not exactly a lie, Mother. Or have you forgotten the feel of the belt in your hand?"

Sidda could hear Vivi's sharp intake of breath. When Vivi spoke, her voice had dropped into a lower register.

"My love was a privilege that you abused. I have withdrawn that privilege. You are out of my heart. You are banished to the outer reaches. I wish you nothing but unending guilt."

Sidda heard the dial tone. She knew her mother had broken the connection. But she could not lower the phone from her ear. She stood frozen in place, the sounds of midtown Manhattan down below, the cold March light of the city fading around her.

After years of directing plays in regional theaters from Alaska to Florida, after numerous Off-Off-Broadway productions, Sidda had been ready for the success of Women on the Cusp. When the play finally opened at Lincoln Center that February, it was to unanimous golden reviews. At the age of forty, Sidda was eager to bask in the light of recognition. She had worked on the play with the playwright, May Sorenson, since the play's first reading at the Seattle Rep, May's home turf. She'd directed not only the Seattle premiere, but productions in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Connor had designed the sets, and one of her best buddies, Wade Coenen, had done the costumes. The four of them had been a team for years, and Sidda had been thrilled to sit back with her pals and soak up some glory.

Roberta Lydell's initial review of the play had fawned over Sidda's work:

Siddalee Walker has directed May Sorenson's tour de force about mothers and daughters with gutsiness and compassion. In Walker's hands, what could have turned maudlin and overly comic is instead stunning, heartbreaking, and deeply funny. Walker has heard the purest tones of Sorenson's rollicking, complex, sad, witty play, and has shaped these tones into a production that is more a force of nature than a stage production. The family--its secrets, its murders, and its miraculous buoyancy--is alive and well at Lincoln Center. The American theater has both May Sorenson and Siddalee Walker to thank for it.

How could Sidda have known, a month later, that Roberta Lydell would snake her way into her psyche, extracting information that Sidda normally shared with only her therapist and best friends?

After the offending profile, Vivi and Shep, Sidda's father, and the rest of her family canceled their block of tickets to the play. Sidda set aside the elaborate plans she'd made for their visit. She often dreamed of Vivi crying. Dreams from which she, herself, woke crying. Sidda did not hear from her brother Little Shep, or her sister, Lulu. She heard nothing from her father. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Copyright © by Rebecca Wells. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

What People are Saying About This

Tom Robbins

This is a sweet and sad...dance of life...as performed by a bevy of unforgettable Southern belles...Poignantly coo-coo, the Ya-Yas...will prance, prick, ponder, and party their way into your future affections.

Reading Group Guide

"Rebecca Wells's new novel is a big, blowzy romp through the rainbow eccentricities of three generations of crazy bayou debutantes trying to survive marriage, motherhood and pain, relying always on their love for each other. It is a novel of wide reach and lots of colors: fun in a breathless sort of way. Vivi is one of the best characters in any novel you'll read this summer."
--Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Plot Summary

Sidda is a girl again in the hot heart of Louisiana, the bayou world of Catholic saints and voodoo queens. She walks barefoot into the humid night, moonlight on her freckled shoulders. Near a huge, live oak tree on the edge of her father's cotton fields, Sidda looks up into the sky. In the crook of the crescent moon sits the Holy Lady, with strong muscles and a merciful heart. She kicks her splendid legs like the moon is her swing and the sky, her front porch. She waves down at Sidda like she has just spotted an old buddy. Sidda stands in the moonlight and lets the Blessed Mother love every hair on her six-year-old head. Tenderness flows down from the moon and up from the earth. For one fleeting, luminous moment, Sidda Walker knows there has never been a time she has not been loved.

When Siddalee and Vivi Walker, an utterly original mother-daughter team, get into a savage fight over a New York Times article that refers to Vivi as a "tap-dancing child abuser," the fall-out is felt from Louisiana to New York to Seattle. Siddalee, a successful theatre director with a huge hit on her hands, panics and postpones her upcoming wedding to her lover and friend Connor McGill. But Vivi's intrepid gang of life-long girlfriends, the Ya-Yas, sashay in and conspire to bring everyone back together.

In 1932, Vivi and the Ya-Yas were disqualified from a Shirley Temple Look-Alike Contest for unladylike behavior. Sixty years later, they're "bucking seventy," and still making waves. They persuade Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of girlhood momentos entitled "The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood."

Sidda retreats to a cabin on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, tormented by fear and uncertainty about the future, and intent on discovering a key to the tangle of anger and tenderness she feels toward her mother. But the album reveals more questions than answers, and leads Sidda to encounter the unknowable mystery of life and the legacy of imperfect love.

With passion and a rare gift of language, Rebecca Wells moves from present to past, unraveling Vivi's life, her enduring friendships with the Ya-Yas, and the reverberations on Siddalee. The collective power of the Ya-Yas, each of them totally individual and authentic, permeates this story of a tribe of Louisiana wild women impossible to tame.

Questions for Discussion
1. Wells uses three quotations as epigraphs for the novel. Why might she have chosen the first two, which address the need for spiritual growth and love? What connection, might there be between the "unknowable" that sits there "licking its chops" and our need for spiritual growth and love?

2. While Vivi was not a perfect mother, Wells does not blame her as a mother. Discuss the concept of the "good enough" mother and what acceptance of that concept means to a woman's acceptance of self.

3. One of the dominant motifs in the novel focuses on the contrast between the spirit and the law. Sister Solange and Sister Fermin take very different approaches to teaching Vivi. The Ya-Yas and Buggy have very different ideas as to what makes a statue of the Virgin Mary beautiful. The Ya-Yas and the Catholic Church have very different ideas as to where Genevieve can be buried. And, on one occasion, Vivi thinks that "Sometimes higher laws than Thornton's must be obeyed." To what higher laws is Vivi referring? Do those higher laws have any connection with the conflict that Wells seems to see between the spirit and the law?

4. Religious imagery abounds in the novel. The young Ya-Yas prick their fingers and drink each other's blood and experience a communion. Sidda baptizes herself. Why might Wells rely so heavily on religious imagery to describe everyday experiences?

5. One of the themes of the novel is the necessity of and the difficulty of personal growth. For instance, Sidda must remind herself and be reminded that she is a "grown up." Which characters in the novel experience personal growth? What obstacles must those characters overcome in order to grow? How do those characters that grow overcome the obstacles that stand in their way?

6. Is there any special significance that can be attached to the fact that Wells ends her novel with a marriage?

7. Vivi is a tangled, charismatic, and haunted character. How much does the culture Vivi grew up in influence her? Does a woman face special problems when she grows up in the South during the 1940's? Look closely at Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind to see how it influenced Vivi's idea of who she was. In what way might "being a lady" pose problems for Vivi, her friends, and their daughters?

8. Why does Wells switch back and forth between the present (Sidda's current life) and the past (Vivi's youth and early motherhood)? What might Wells be suggesting about mothers and daughters?

9. "The Holy Lady" appears at the beginning and at the end of the novel. Discuss her presence in the book and what Wells might be suggesting with such inclusions.

10. What role does humor serve throughout the novel? Discuss how closely Wells weaves humor and pathos.

About the Author: Rebecca Wells, a Louisiana native, is an author, actor and playwright. Her works for the stage include Splittin' Hairs and Gloria Duplex, for which she created the lead roles.

She has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Western States Book Award for her first novel, Little Altars Everywhere.

She tours a one-woman show based on Little Altars Everywhere and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Wells lives on an island near Seattle, Washington.

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The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 227 reviews.
BANCHEE_READS More than 1 year ago
The companion of "Little Altars Everywhere," this book takes the vantage of the adult Sidda. Although she's become successful on the outside, the inside still trembles at the damage inflicted by her mother Vivi while growing up. In an attempt to help her daughter understand - and possibly restore their terribly damaged relationship - Vivi sends Sidda a scrapbook filled with "Ya-Ya-rabilia." As Sidda flips through the book and examines each item, the voices of Vivi and the other Ya-Yas explain the context which the item represents. Quickly, Sidda realizes that her mother was once young and full of hopes, which were dashed by her dour parents and a tragic death. If you aren't a big fan of flashbacks, this might not be the book for you. However, Wells seems to do a good job, moving seamlessly from past to present and back. I highly recommend giving it a try!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read this book when I was about 16 year old and it will always be a part of me. It's an incredible story of the bond between friends and family written in such a way that as it's read the reader becomes a part themself. I recommend this book to everyone. It is an amazing story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book! I would recomend reading
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was amazingly truthful. Its beautiful and haunting all in one. I loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the movie but then read the book it is so much more detailed
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Worth every star!
Aimee_Leon More than 1 year ago
Ooohh!..I loved Devine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. The novel was so sweet, heart felt, and fabulous. The story is from Sidda's point of view than swoops over to Vivi's point with the Ya-Ya gang in between. All of the senses of the nostalgic feeling is shown & shared in this tale that leaves you yearning for your childhood days that were filled with joy,laughter, friendship, and adventure & tears. Anyone could relate to this novel, whether mother or daughter. This is the first novel of Rebecca Wells that I've read and I enjoyed it alot. So I'm definitely going to read her other books.
tchrreader More than 1 year ago
A book about four women who are the best of friends growing up (which makes them Ya Yas) and a petite ya ya (one of their daughters). The daughter is gathering information on the Ya Yas and their lives. I thought this book was really good, a nice story. It was all of the emotions you could hope for- happy, sad and a book about unconditional friendship. You will cry and you will laugh and you will want to become a Ya Ya! What a great story of friendship- share it with a friend.
Angela2932ND More than 1 year ago
A fun, easy, feel-good read. Although it has themes of coming to terms with childhood issues, complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, and forgiveness, this is the kind of book that makes you want to celebrate relationships between women, even if it's more myth and wishful thinking than necessarily realized in real life. I think it taps into the longing that women feel for their childhood female friends, sometimes replicated in adulthood, but never quite with the same, sweet loyalty and bonding of young girls, probably pre-middle school. I read this book a few years ago, and remember that after it came out, it was popular to go on-line and "register" for a "ya ya sisterhood" name! Mine was "Countess Sassy Mouth!"
mrsutton25 More than 1 year ago
Beautifully well written story of the love between mother and daughter, the bonds of true friendship, and the lengths people go to find themselves. The characters will remain in your heart long after you read the last page.
xoxo_leigh More than 1 year ago
Make time for it because you won't be able to put it down! Amazing vivi-vidid mix of humor, life-long friendship, love, understanding and a 'lil mix of Louisiana soul. Story of a lost time, an age of innocence I'm jealous I will never experience. Next stop rent movie...hope its half as magical!
Guest More than 1 year ago
i can't wait to read the book after seeing the movie. Sandra Bullock and Ellen Burstyn did an outstanding job, along with the rest of the cast, bringing the characters from ms. wells book alive. they were so vibrant in the way they told the story, between present and past, to bring everyone together. it was the most heart warming film, and it showed how friendships can stick together, even after 70 years. the way everyone just came together, it shows what love, compassion, and the true test of friendship and never ending love is all about. i absolutely loved the movie, i've done watched about 40 times, till i know it by heart !! i have to say that ms. wells, is an awesome writer, and hope to see more of her stuff, bought to the movies !! i recommend this DVD to anyone ! she also made you feel like you were part of the story too, because i laughed and cried, with the women in the story, as it was told. very moving !!
DeirdreMac on LibraryThing 21 hours ago
Very formulated. Couldn't bring myself to finish it.
UtopianElle on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I read this a long time ago, but from what I do remember: I laughed a lot, but definitely didn't cry. I think the relationship between mother and daughter was developed in a meaningful and complex way. Overall, the book was a bit disappointing given all of its success. One for the masses. One where the movie version would have done well enough.
debnance on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Men, put this book down. Don't you see? It says "Sisterhood"...right there on the cover. For women only, but, for us, a delightful read.
tandah on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I couldn't put this put down - however, didn't think it was written particularly well (feel that the narrative was written as dialogue and was a bit casually in the way it skipped between 1st and 3rd person), having said that, as an Australian, caught myself reading it with a Southern accent - but the story was fantastic - and the first time in ages I walked through the street reading the book. The Ya-Ya friendship, the self-expression and Vivi/Siddha relationship were just a delight and moved me to tears. The vignetts around the the Ya-Ya's and petite Ya-Ya's described and the delight and effort they all put into living was wonderful.
susanbevans on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Really easy and enjoyable to read. The characters are memorable and really draw you in to their world.
carka on LibraryThing 2 days ago
At times reminded me of my own growing up
Cecilturtle on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Some nice fun tales, but very heavy-handed psychology
estellen on LibraryThing 2 days ago
The follow-up was much better - this one is slightly sentimental and only touches on the psyche of the Ya-yas
Fliss88 on LibraryThing 2 days ago
What can I say, apart from this is my sort of book, loved it. Thought the film was pretty good too. Family, friendships, loyalty, love, mothers, daughters, humour and heartbreak, this book has it all!
coolpinkone on LibraryThing 2 days ago
This is a book of mothers and daughters. Of best friends and secrets. It will make you laugh and cry. A great summer read. It is ten times better than the movie.
RachelPenso on LibraryThing 2 days ago
This book reminded of my dear, lifelong friend, Kristy. Having a deep friendship with someone from childhood through old womanhood is rare. That is what the four women in this book have in common with Kristy and I (even though we're not old women yet; we'll get there!)
DanaMBurnett on LibraryThing 2 days ago
Any woman that had a best friend growing up, that one person that knew everything about you and loved you anyway, will appreciate the friendship described in this novel. Wells writes beautifully wounded characters that are flawed and honest.
Jesse1031 on LibraryThing 2 days ago
I liked this book. I liked the story and the characters. I also enjoyed the movie. I liked the detail in this book. I read it while I was away from home and it had me feeling really home sick. I feel the details about Louisiana and older adults is accurate in some cases. Who doesn't have some sort of family drama. I found this book very sweet and touching at times and sad and complex in others.