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The Sisters

A Novel

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In the tradition of Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping and Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, a dazzling debut novel about the family bonds that remain even when they seem irretrievably torn apart

Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other--with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women.

What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem.

Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen's powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.

From Publishers Weekly

Sep 05, 2011 – First-time novelist Jensen redeems her soap opera plot—tracing the lives of two sisters separated in their youth by a tragic misunderstanding—with an observant eye, adept characterization, and a keen grasp of social issues. When 19-year-old Mabel Fischer realizes that their predatory stepfather, who has repeatedly raped and humiliated her, has designs on her younger sister, Bertie, she flees smalltown Juniper, Ky. in 1927 with Bertie's boyfriend and a plan for Bertie to follow. But the plan falls apart, leaving Bertie with what seems like a double betrayal, and sundering the sisters’ lives forever. Bertie marries, but her union is marred by bitterness and the coldness she shows to her two daughters. And Mabel, who doesn’t marry, kidnaps and keeps a child who has been sexually abused. In alternating chapters, Jensen chronicles the difficult, often traumatic lives of four generations of women who descend from the Fischer sisters. There’s plenty of drama, much of it illuminating the changing roles of women in society over a span of 70 years. Jensen nicely integrates history and themes such as the enduring ravages of war on men who fight. While the legacy of Mabel’s courageous sacrifice and Bertie’s barely suppressed anger is “a map of sadness and loss,” it’s brightened by their resilience and the promise seen in the youngest members of the family.

Customer Reviews


I read this book because my book club chose it. I found it sad and depressing. I can not accept that not one of characters was curious enough to find out what happened to Mabel.
I kept wanting someone to come to their senses and reach out to each other. At least maybe the younger generations were going to do that.
Sad sad sad

Fantastic in a tragic way

I absolutely loved this book! While I had my fingers crossed for a happier ending, I found the actual ending to be more believable. The way the book was written, so fast moving, was hard to adjust at first. I found myself sad the way some characters just seemed to disappear, only to be a mere mention in later chapters. But I think that's part of what made the book relatable; time moving forward so quickly, people coming and going. I highly recommend anyone who is even a little curious read this book, but also caution that it is somewhat tragic.

The Sisters

Wow-wonderful book! I read a lot of books, but this is the first time I have wanted to write a review . I want everyone to read this well written, deeply touching story.

The Sisters
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  • $7.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Nov 08, 2011
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC
  • Print Length: 250 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings