Two baby girls, dubbed by one mother as the “birthday sisters,” are born on the same day in a rural Vermont hospital. Somehow the baby who becomes a tall blonde winds up in a family of short brunettes, while the short brunette finds herself the daughter of a leggy young blonde. Hmm. But suspicious readers shouldn’t be worried—the unfolding of this story is a journey well worth taking.
At the center of the novel are two families, the Planks and the Dickersons. On the surface, they couldn’t be more different. The Plank family has lived on the same piece of Vermont soil for generations—and throughout the scope of the novel (roughly from 1950 through the present day) they face the plight of the small farm trying to compete with corporate supermarkets. Meanwhile the Dickersons seem incapable of staying in one place, and they are thoroughly modern in a way that mystifies the more traditional Planks. But underneath the happy-go-lucky exterior, desperate poverty follows them at every turn.
On July 4, 1950, Ruth Plank and Dana Dickerson arrive into their respective families. The story is told in short chapters, alternating perspectives with each protagonist. While occasionally sounding the tiniest bit contrived, the shifting point of view is, on the whole, believable and engrossing. We follow Ruth and Dana from childhood through adulthood, and each emerges as an independent, likable woman, both of whom long to be good daughters while struggling with a nagging sense that something in their families is deeply wrong.
Maynard’s excellent storytelling keeps readers eagerly turning the pages, and she raises some interesting questions along the way: How much of who we are is shaped by our family background? How do our families limit who we may become? Ultimately, Maynard suggests that every family story is fraught with complications—and that it is the responsibility of the good daughter to create her own identity in spite of them.