Even though she has written 25 books, I had never heard of Alice Hoffman, nor had I read any of her books. Not too long ago I began seeing her name pop up on the internet about some sort of controversy she was having with a book reviewer. Later I did a search and went to her website. I noticed she had a very new book that was just released and thought I might like it, knowing it was probably the one upon which all the controversy was centered. I just finished reading The Story Sisters.
Part of the reason the book appealed to me when I was reading the inside cover at the bookstore was because one of the sisters was going to meet her destiny in Paris. Any book that has Paris in the setting (especially in the 1920’s) is one that I gravitate towards. I like to see how different authors approach the city in their works. Do they only mention specific sites, cafes, streets, etc., or do they try to capture the energy and personality of that beautiful city as well?
I thought Ms. Hoffman did understand Paris, but most of The Story Sisters, however, takes place in the present day on Long Island and in New York City. Three sisters who live with their divorced mother in small North Point Harbor are so close that they have created their own language and fairy tale world. The eldest, Elv, is the driving force behind their secret world. The middle sister, Meg, is the reader in the family, as well as being the caretaker and sensible one (more than the mother, Annie). The youngest sister, Claire, idolizes and worships both older sisters, but especially Elv. Meg never really learns the language well or participates in the fairy tale world as much as the other two.
Through the story readers find that the defining day in Elv and Claire’s lives was the day when Claire was about to be abducted by a high school teacher, but 11-year-old Elv sacrificed herself instead. She was gone all day with the man but managed to escape and returned to find Claire waiting for her on the street exactly where she was abducted earlier in the day. Claire and Elv never really talked about what happened to Elv and they never told anyone else what happened that day either–not even Meg. Their unbreakable bond was forged.
After reading this book, I think I would enjoy reading more of Ms. Hoffman’s works. Elv is the main character of this book and I admired how Ms. Hoffman made her strong, protective, decisive, and imaginative. Of course, the degree to which she took her fairy tale world was Elv’s method of surviving the bad experiences that happened to her. Elv was not particularly likeable until later in the novel, but she was focus of Hoffman’s characters. I enjoyed the intricacies of the bond of two of the sisters versus the unawareness, yet normalcy, of the other sister. There was even a minor character who was the “prince” of the story. I also enjoyed the transformation of Elv over the years from defiant to assertive.
The Story Sisters was a very enjoyable first read of Alice Hoffman for me. I do, however, think she overreacted to the review by Susan Balée of The Philadelphia Enquirer. A link to this review is here. Ms. Hoffman had some not-so-nice tweets about the reviewer on Twitter and she was either booted off or discontinued her account on Twitter.