What was the last book that ripped out your heart, tore it into a million little pieces, threw then in the mud and stomped on them – but which still ended up in your favourites list? Yes, this one was that type of book for me. Visceral, gut wrenching, confronting and absolutely riveting are just a few words that some to mind when I am trying to recall the rollercoaster of emotions I lived through reading THE GOOD SISTER.
To be honest, I went into this one blindly and would probably never have picked it up had it not been a Traveling Sisters group read. Have you noticed how the best books often sneak up on you unawares? But I am usually a sucker for a good courtroom drama and sister dynamics, so the blurb intrigued me. I was, however, ill prepared for the absolute devastation this book wreaked on my heart.
Your baby is dead. Your sister is standing trial for the murder of your daughter, who was in her care that night. Is she guilty? This is the situation Martha finds herself in after having appointed her sister Becky as the nanny of her baby daughter Layla, allowing her to go back to work. Because who would you trust more with your child than your own sister? Now Layla is dead, and though it was initially thought to be cot death, the coroner’s findings suggest that there was foul play. Martha cannot believe that Becky could ever harm her child. But could she?
Warning: some scenes of this book are very hard to read, and this warning is coming from an ED nurse who is somewhat inured to tragedy and death. I have rarely read a book where the medical and courtroom scenes are as well researched and portrayed as in this one, which makes it all very heart-breakingly real. By offering us different POVs from several witnesses in the trial, McAllister has managed to paint very vivid scenes, from the time Becky called 911 to report little Layla’s death. We follow the tragedy from the first moment the paramedics appeared on scene, through the emergency department to the coroner’s slab. Vivid, gut-wrenching. It will be difficult for a lot of readers to stomach, so be aware of triggers.
However, as much as there is heartbreak, there is also love, and hope. Despite the horrible situation Martha finds herself in, she never hates her sister and believes in her innocence even through the scenes in the courtroom where evidence against her is steadily mounting. Could I be so forgiving, so loving? With it comes Martha’s own guilt, her doubts about leaving her baby n someone else’s care to attend to business. It was all so heartbreakingly real, that regret.
Of course, the media immediately cashes in on all aspects of the tragedy. Let’s condemn the mother for leaving her child. Let’s make every transgression Becky may ever have made, every conflict she has ever had, from a moment of road rage to being late to pick up her son from school, to point the finger at them both: bad mother, bad sister, guilty in the eyes of the public even before the trial. It shows how easy it is to isolate everyday situations to make a person appear bad. Have you recently yelled at your kids? Fought with your husband? Honked the horn at someone in traffic? Then, like Becky, you must surely be a terrible person capable of murder. Scary, really, how easy it is to judge!
McAllister writes with a keen eye for human behaviour and a deep understanding of the human psyche, which made this a thought provoking and insightful read for me. It challenged some of my own preconceptions and judgments, and made me wonder all the while: could Becky have done it? Whilst I can’t say that I loved every minute of it, on account of feeling the utter heart break over Layla’s death and the sisters’ horrible situation, this was a solid five star read for me and one that will stay in my mind for a long time to come.
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