The Good Sister: Everyone has a Dark Side kept me turning the pages until way past my bedtime. The sixth book by best-selling Australian author Sally Hepworth, it boasts plenty of plot twists and big themes. Mystery and psychological intrigue abound as we learn about the family dramas that surround the sisters and their mother.
About the novel
Told from the points-of-view of twin sisters, Fern and Rose, the main story is Fern’s. The secondary, interspersed one, consists of excerpts from Rose’s journal, written, so we learn, at the behest of her therapist. Each tells a plausible story. But which is true? Which sister can be described as ‘good’?
Growing up in a single-parent household, each has a different relationship with their mother. An incident that occurs during a camping trip throws a dark shadow over all three. What actually happened forms the heart of the story.
The novel takes a twist when Fern meets Wally, whom she recognises is as strange as she, herself. They fall in love in a quiet, gentle way. But, of course, their relationship is far from smooth sailing.
To begin with, I thought the novel might be a coming-of-age story, but it quickly developed differently.
Major themes in The Good Sister
Sally Hepworth tackles major themes in this novel and she shows evidence of solid research. She also manages to write a book a year. No mean feat for the mother of three young children. As well as the over-arching struggle between good and evil, below are some of the other themes she writes about in The Good Sister.
Autism spectrum disorder
Fern, a librarian, displays many of the signs of a person with autism spectrum disorder. She needs order and routine to function well. Her interpersonal skills do not always match her aspirations and she often fails to understand what others say. Happily, during the course of the novel, Wally and the librarians teach her useful skills. When she suffers sensory overload, her anxiety becomes palpable.
Fern also comes across as warm, funny and strangely insightful.
Rose, on the other hand, exhibits many of the traits of a person with a personality disorder. She has an inflated sense of her own importance, and a lack of empathy for others, including, Rose. Throughout their lives, she has manipulated Fern to do what she (Rose) wants even when Fern will suffer the consequences.
When Fern becomes pregnant, the reader is unsure if she has chosen deliberately or not. But soon, Rose has pressed Fern into agreeing to surrogate relationship. Surrogacy in Australia strictly bound by legal requirements but these were not considered in this novel.
With a rollicking good story and so much material to think about and discuss, I recommend The Good Sister for book clubs.
This is the first book I’ve reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2021. You can find out more about my commitment in ‘Book review challenge that preferences women writers‘.