Select one of the keywords
Sister Mine    by Tawni O'Dell order for
Sister Mine
by Tawni O'Dell
Order:  USA  Can
Shaye Areheart, 2007 (2007)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Daninhirsch

Few authors can capture blue-collar life than Tawni O'Dell. The Western Pennsylvania native's literary career was launched when Oprah Winfrey chose O'Dell's first novel, Back Roads, for her book club selection in 2000.

In Sister Mine, O'Dell returns to familiar places. As with her previous novels, the story is set in a small, depressed coal town that has seen its share of tragedy. The fictional town of Jolly Mount, Pennsylvania, is home to a group of five coal miners who made national headlines when they survived a coal explosion. Other coal mining tragedies have affected the town and shaped its history.

Shae-Lynn is working as a cab driver, having moved back to her hometown after years on the road with her son. Her mother died when her baby sister Shannon was only days old. Shae-Lynn had to grow up in a hurry, taking on the role of mother to her baby sister, and wife to her abusive father. When Shae-Lynn had a baby at age seventeen, she left her younger sister with her father and escaped to Washington, D.C. with her son Clay. Soon after, Shannon disappeared, leading Shae-Lynn to believe that Shannon was murdered by their father.

Eighteen years later, Shannon reappears out of the blue and is being followed by several others hot on her trail. Where Shannon has been and what she is involved in is a captivating mystery that Shae-Lynn gradually begins to piece together.

Shae-Lynn is a refreshingly and unapologetically flawed main character. She's sassy, she's crude, but she's a loving mother and sister who wants to resolve past mistakes. Other colorful characters grace the pages, all of them authentically drawn. There's Dusty, a survivor of the mine disaster who cannot get his life back on track after the celebrity lights have faded; there's E.J., Shae-Lynn's childhood friend and love interest; there's Cam Jack, the seedy and uncaring owner of the mines; and there's Clay, Shae-Lynn's son, from whom she has been keeping a huge secret his whole life.

O'Dell's writing is often poignant and thought-provoking. One of my favorite passages occurs during a scene in which Shae-Lynn is talking to Dusty about returning to the coal mines: 'I stopped thinking about the big picture a long time ago. I only think about the individual drops of paint and how to maintain the integrity of each color before it hits the canvas.' O'Dell shows that our secrets cannot remain so for long - the truth will eventually emerge. The book is about forgiveness, and of letting go of the past and forging ahead. Sister Mine is an absorbing novel, recommended for a summer read.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews