“The Sisters We Were” by Wendy Willis Baldwin – Review

By: Angie Haddock


The weight of their family secrets could not have shaped Pearl and Ruby Crenshaw any differently. Ruby’s a runner, living in Dallas and only reluctantly talking to their mother, Birdie, when she calls from prison. Pearl is still living in her mother’s fixer-upper and finds herself facing a line in the sand: her weight is threatening to kill her. She’s hundreds of pounds beyond the point where she can celebrate her curves or benefit from the body positivity movement, and unless she takes drastic action, the future looks dire.

Goodreads


I find that I get roped into reading more contemporary fiction than I intend to, but sometimes it pays off… and this is one of those times!

While this story is fiction, it’s based on some real experiences of the author and her sister. More on that later.

The sisters in the book are Pearl and Ruby. When I first read the description, I assumed Pearl’s weight was just a part of the setting, but it really is the main driver of the whole book. Pearl struggles at first to commit to bariatric surgery, but she knows she has to do something before she gets any bigger than her 531 pounds. She is obsessed with Chip & Joanna Gaines, and tries to view herself as a “fixer-upper” project.

She and Ruby don’t really talk anymore, and their mom is in jail. So reaching out to Ruby to ask her to come and help during her recovery is another hurdle Pearl has to jump to make this surgery possible. That’s on top of the cost, the idea of not bingeing Taco Bell anymore, and of course… seeing herself as “worth” all the work and money this transformation will need from her.

The book includes some notes from both the author and her sister, who really did weigh in at 531 lbs at one point. In the author’s notes, she mentions that other publishers turned down this story because they found a protagonist that size “distasteful.” Obviously, this is just plain sad. For starters, I’m sure some people that size are readers, and would love to see themselves represented! But also…

The first half of the book is pre-surgery, so the struggles to make the decision and go through with it are really as much of the book as the actual weight loss. And I think that’s what makes it universal. As much as it does deal with transformation, it also deals with finding the motivation to take those first steps. And isn’t that something most of us struggle with? (Especially this time of year!)

The book also delves into the reasons these sisters are dealing with the struggles they’re dealing with. Content Warning: one of these that is not revealed until very late in the story has to do with sexual molestation.

I, for one, applaud Sourcebooks Landmark for publishing this book! It is the debut novel from Wendy Willis Baldwin, and a topic that I have not previously read a lot about. This look at obesity – and a real human suffering its effects – was at times poignant, funny, triumphant, and informative (for someone who hasn’t gone through such a surgery).

This one comes out today, January 17th. I was able to read an advanced reader copy through NetGalley and the publisher.


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