The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard
Connie Plank is obsessed with the fact that a baby named Dana Dickerson was born on the same day, in the same hospital, and just about the same time as her girl, Ruth, was born. She calls them “birthday sisters.” This obsession leads her to make visits with her family to the Dickersons when they live in the same New Hampshire town, and even when the Dickersons move away. The families have little in common, including (and especially) the birthday sisters, making these trips awkward.
The Good Daughters follows the two girls as they grow and head in separate directions, each chapter alternating between the two voices. While there is little communication between them, they both share a love for Dana’s brother, Ray — Dana as his sister and Ruth as his romantic admirer and then as his lover.
What propels the novel along is the mystery that begins with Connie’s obsession and continues to pervade the book as the girls struggle against being the outcast in their families and feeling disconnected. In fact, the only person that both girls seem to connect with is Edwin Plank, a farmer and Ruth’s father. It is through him that both girls find a sense of acceptance.
This is a beautifully written book that explores both loving and not-so-loving relationships — including several that are “taboo” such as the one that Ruth has with her lover, Clarice (a most loving and tenderly rendered study of true love). As the underlying mysteries unfold, love is lost and then found in the most unexpected way. This is a meaty choice for book clubs.
Harper Perennial/HarperCollins; ISBN 978-0-06199-432-6; $14.99.