Unique characters will entertain readers
Therese Walsh has written a mesmerizing novel with two unique, unforgettable and interesting characters — the Moon sisters. She explores family dynamics, love, dreams, ambition and more in her second novel, "The Moon Sisters." Set in West Virginia in contemporary times, she includes train hoppers, small-town life, being on the run and even hallucinogenic mushrooms in a novel that twists and turns, literally and figuratively, through the lives of Jazz and Olivia Moon.
The novel opens just after the death of their mother, Beth. Jazz, 22 years old, is practical, smart, stubborn and jaded and realizes their mother committed suicide. Olivia, 18, who has synesthesia and says that the sun smells like their mother, can't believe that she would kill herself. This disagreement is the catalyst that Walsh uses throughout the story to keep each sister moving toward her own destiny and truth. Olivia is determined to take their mother's ashes and find ghost lights in a cranberry bog. Her mother spent her life constructing an unfinished novel set in this bog, but she never visited the place herself. Jazz thinks the mission is ridiculous, and there's no way Olivia can go on her own — she's half-blind from staring at the sun, naive and way too trusting of other people.
Their father, who deals with his grief by drinking vodka until he passes out, is unable to protect Olivia from her wild ideas, so Jazz has to step in. The problem is Jazz can't go off on a crazy journey right now —she just got a job at the funeral home where their mother was cremated months before.
When the bus they are driving in breaks down, Olivia hops on a train, where she meets Hobbs, a young man covered in tattoos and running from his own demons. He agrees to take Olivia to find the ghost lights in the bog, and she decides to trust him. This plan would have worked out fine, until Jazz finds her sister and doesn't trust one thing about Hobbs.
To keep track of Olivia, Jazz joins the pair, along with one other train hopper that Hobbs can't seem to get rid of named Red Grass, an older man full of personality and with ulterior motives of his own.
Walsh tells the story from both sisters' points of view with amazing skill. Although each chapter is titled with the sister's name, readers don't need this label to figure out whose telling her story. Each voice is distinct and true to the girl's traits. Walsh also uses flashbacks and letters written by their mother to reveal the complicated relationships of the Moon family and explain how life became depressing enough for Beth to kill herself and set her girls on this trip.
Walsh has several mysteries unraveling as readers make their way to the end of the story; she plants clues along the way, just enough that if readers want to figure out all the connections, they can. They can also just go along on the quest with the sisters and maybe discover something about themselves along the way.
Walsh is the author of "The Last Will of Moira Leahy" and is the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a website about fiction writing that has been included on the list of the best 101 websites for writers by Writer's Digest.
She lives in New York with her husband and two children.
If you have a sister, "The Moon Sisters" will probably touch you in an even deeper way, as it explores the complicated relationships between siblings, especially when parents are unstable themselves. Once you've read a novel by Walsh, you'll want to read more. She has an amazing way with language and building characters you want to get to know.
Margo L. Dill is celebrating the release of her second novel, "Caught Between Two Curses," a young-adult novel exploring love, family and the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Cubs. She is also the author of "Finding My Place: One Girl's Strength at Vicksburg," a middle-grade historical-fiction novel. She lives in St. Louis with her family.