The Sister by Louise Jensen
The opening is so mysterious as we meet our protagonists in a forest, in the dark, in the wet and squelching through mud with a shovel and "heartbreak heavy legs." The final lines of this short enticing section finishing with the intriguing sentence:
"The dampness of the leaves and earth seep through my trousers, as the past seeps through to my present."
Meet Grace. Meet Charlie. Best friends since childhood. Different enough but similar still that the bond between them is deep and strong. But Charlie has died and Grace is devastated. She wears a half heart necklace "forever on a chain around my neck" which is "desperate to be whole again." She has a boyfriend Dan who loves her but Grace's heart seems broken by the death of her friend and she's clearly struggling to move forward. Digging up an old memory box that the friends buried years before, Grace finds a letter and realises that perhaps she never really knew her friend after all.
"Can you ever really know someone? Properly know someone?"
The book is divided into two narratives, "Now" and "Then" and I liked that they weren't always alternating told and that the we often stayed with one of them for a few chapters before switching. This increased the tension and kept the reader glued to the page, desperate to return to the past and find out what happened in the lead up to Charlie's death and desperate to stay in the present and find out what was happening to Grace.
Grace's life is unravelling. She has a traumatic past for which she carries blame and guilt and now with the death of her best friend she seems rudderless, drifting dangerously into a haze of depression. Her relationship with Dan is under pressure as "Grief has pulled us apart like repelling magnets," with a "gulf between us that we just can't bridge." So finding a letter from Charlie, Grace is given purpose by wanting to know just what her words meant and then also deciding to track down Charlie's father as was Charlie's last wish.
The story is narrated by Grace and the reader cannot help but form a deep attachment with her. When she recounts scenes from her childhood, scenes from when she first started at a new school, tried to make new friends, tried to process what she had been through, it's impossible not to feel empathy for her. The detail and emotive manner of Jensen's writing made me feel like I was always at Grace's side, always with her at every moment however sad, happy, special, confusing or upsetting. In fact, this book is one of those stories where your are screaming at the page as you watch the drama unfold in front of your eyes, desperate to leap in and help Grace realise what is going on around her and desperate to give some of the other characters a piece of your mind.
By screaming I obviously mean with your inner voice.. ... well, I hope it was an inner voice although I'm pretty sure the way I was leaning forward into my kindle as if I might dive through into the screen because I was so gripped by the story and the way I sighed rather too loudly when the train reached my stop, was probably a little unnerving for my fellow commuters.....
But don't you just love a book that makes that happen to you?
The story rattles along with Grace's attempts to find Charlie's father and to work out what Charlie's letter meant but as she does, other things start going wrong around her. Is she being followed? Why is Charlie's mum so angry with her? And then as we head back into the past, what happened to the friendship group Grace and Charlie were part of at school? Why did the group of four girls disintegrate? What did happen to Grace's family and why does she think she is responsible for the death of her father? Why is she blamed for the death of Charlie?
Jensen does such a fabulous job of making us wonder whether Grace is to be trusted - her grief, her projection of what she wants to be true, the realisation that she is strongly medicated and therefore how reliable she really is challenge us and confuse us. We want to be on Grace's side but Jensen is toying with us, dropping small hints and clues that nothing is as it seems. But we want to believe Grace and we want her to uncover the truth.
Then Anna arrives. Charlie's long lost sister. Grace wastes no time in welcoming Anna into her house her life, her heart even, so desperate is she to get something of Charlie back in her like. But Anna, oh yes, Anna. Wow! Fantastic!
Anna is delightfully terrible. I loved that she gave the appearance of someone vulnerable, gentle, kind and innocent yet you knew she was none of those things. You just can't prove it. And you just can't get Grace to see it! I'm currently hooked on the BBC drama "The Replacement" and this relationship between Anna and Grace really reminded me of the central relationship in the programme. It was at this point that I felt Jensen really upped her game and demonstrated her skill as a thriller writer who can create characters that are vivid and compelling and a storyline that is tightly controlled and full of twists.
When I started reading The Sister I was engaged and enjoying it. I loved the complexity of Grace's character as she tried to juggle her job, her relationship, her grief and her memories of the past. I liked the hints, the clues, the half revelations about the characters which was so effective in making me read on and is what makes the first half so suspenseful. This was a psychological thriller; it ticked all the boxes for the kind of read I enjoy and Jensen was successfully following the form of this genre. I was happily reading along. I was turning the pages. I was intrigued and invested in the story. But I wasn't blown away.
And then I was.
Completely. And utterly. Blown away.
I could not read the last third fast enough. My body was tense, my hands twitching, my eyes racing to read on as my head keep asking more questions, trying to keep up with everything Jensen was revealing, everything that was spiralling out of control and everything that each of the characters had to say. And answers - I wanted answers! Every time I thought I had one, Jensen would throw something else in there to complicate things, add a twist, a turn, a shock which just opened up more questions, more tension, more panic- and made the connections that I was trying to link together more tangled.
I really enjoyed The Sister. It is a great debut novel and I am delighted that I also have The Gift - Jensen's second novel, downloaded on my kindle too. I know it won't be long before I abandon my TBR pile and slot it in as I'm sure it will be as excellent as this one!
A really fantastic, gripping, multilayered book about friendship, love, mistakes, secrets and lies. Absolutely well worth a read!
"We all have different sides, I think. The things we share. The things we keep hidden. The good, the bad. The truth, the lies."
The Sister was published as an ebook in July 2016 and in paperback August 2017.
Louise Jensen is very active on social media and I follow her (ok, ok, so I stalk her) on Twitter and via her blog, Fabricating Fiction. She is a great author to follow as her blog posts often have author interviews, insights into her writing process, her latest flash fiction stories and lots lots more. It's definitely one of my favourite blogs - it has a lovely, distinctive design too!
You can follow her blog here fabricating fiction and follow her on Twitter @Fab_fiction
Louise Jensen is a No. 1 bestselling author of psychological thrillers. Her debut novel 'The Sister,' was published in July 2016 and reached No. 1 in the UK where it stayed for over 5 weeks, and it also hit No. 1 on the Canadian Amazon chart, No.1 in Apple's iBooks and is listed as a USA Today Bestseller. It was the 6th biggest selling book on Amazon in 2016.
'The Gift' Louise's second book, was published in December and within a week of release gave Louise her second No. 1 in 2016 both in the UK, where it stayed for over a 5 weeks, was No. 1 in Canada and is also a USA Today Bestseller.
To date Louise has sold over 700,00 books and her novels have been sold for translation in fifteen territories. Louise was nominated for the Goodreads Debut Author of 2016 Award.
Louise also writes flash fiction, and features and articles for both magazines and online publications. Louise specialises in writing about mindfulness, chronic pain and mental health.
MORE ABOUT LOUISE JENSEN:
When I was little I was obsessed by Enid Blyton. Her characters were so real to me they became my friends. I often huddled under my covers, stifling my yawns and straining my eyes, as I read 'just one more page' by torchlight.
Mr Townsend, my primary school English teacher always encouraged my love of literature, and it wasn’t long before I’d read everything my school had to offer. The first book I created was six pages long, had stick-man illustrations and was sellotaped together. I was immensely proud of it. Writing was a huge part of my life, until one day it wasn’t.
I can’t remember ever making a conscious decision to stop writing but it became easier to act on the advice I was given - ‘grow up and get a proper job’ - and my dreams were tightly packed away, gathering dust for the next twenty years.
My thirties were a car crash. Literally. I sustained injuries which when coupled with a pre-existing condition forced me to radically change my lifestyle. I felt utterly lost and utterly alone. Always an avid reader I began to devour books at an alarming rate. ‘You’ll have read every book in here soon,’ my local librarian said. ‘You’ll have to write your own.’
And there was a flicker, a shift, a rising of hope. I grasped that nugget of possibility and I wrote. I wrote when I was happy. I wrote when I was sad. I wrote when I was scared and in-between writing, I read, read and read some more. Words have the power to lift, to heal. They have illuminated my world, which for a time became very dark.
As Anne Frank said ‘I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.’
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk).