THE MOON SISTERS by Therese Walsh

Authors, publishers and agents often say the bottom line for book sales is word of mouth. I won’t argue. But I believe in something stronger—book karma. Books have energy, a life force that wraps around our hearts, tugs on our minds and makes our fingers itch until the bound pages are in our hands. Books arrive when we need them. I reread books because I have no choice. Certain characters haunt me and I must return to their lives as many times as it takes to learn from the wisdom they offer. The Moon Sisters is such a novel.

I wasn’t surprised. Therese Walsh, the co-founder of Writer Unboxed, mesmerized me so much with her debut The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I wrote my first fan letter. This is my second.

GROUND ZERO

The End of the Beginning

* Olivia * 

The night before the worst day of my life, I dreamed the sun went dark and ice cracked every mirror in the house, but I didn’t take it for a warning.  

A moment of awe followed. I don’t know how long I waited, or how many times I reread this opening, but before moving on I knew I would not turn back, or set the book down until I was done. Walsh is a writer on par with the finest archeological excavator. Every word is selected, polished and mounted against the next with intent. An intent formulated from deep within legally blind Olivia (who can taste words, see sounds and smell sights), older sister Jazz (a bit overlooked and bruised from being delegated as her sister’s keeper), and their mother, Beth (recently deceased whose voice is heard through the letters she left behind).

Through the alternating chapters of the sisters and Beth’s periodic letters we are able to piece together a family dynamic, which is best defined as a unit of hair-line fractures that crack open after Beth’s sudden death. Her husband embraces the bottle. Jazz finds a job in a funeral home. Olivia hits the road. Olivia’s mission is to travel to the setting of her mother’s unfinished novel in the hope of seeing a will-o’-the-wisp in order to lay her mother’s spirit to rest. Reluctantly, Jazz follows to keep her sister safe and put an end to this dreaming nonsense.

The sister’s cross-purposes intersect with two train-hoppers with missions of their own. The foursome’s entanglement leads to unexpected twists, emotional complications and forces Olivia and Jazz to face their personal grief and secrets together and separately. This is where Walsh shines as she sculpts the sentences that build an unforgettable story.

A breeze cut through, slapped leaves on trees, rattled branches in a quick swirl of cinnamon heat, then was gone. Left was the scent of my own desperation.

—Olivia 

A breeze blew up when she dropped my hand, and my panic spiked. This was a change. Not a jabberfest. There was something different about my sister.

—Jazz 

Walsh leaves nothing untouched. Her ability to bring a heightened awareness of the environment to the moment to enhance each character’s personal crisis is a skill to be admired and studied. The above examples are not rare. This kind of seamless craftsmanship permeates the novel, and sutures our hearts to those of the Moon sisters.

This skill, to use the environment as a character, or a means to express character needs to be part of every writer’s Toolbox. Walsh is way beyond basics. Her word choices magnify how Olivia and Jazz struggle with the first four stages of the grief cycle. The first time through The Moon Sisters my curiosity was stimulated by the recurrence of the word rain.

The rain sputtered on. Wind thrashed against the wood. Hobbs came up beside me, seemed to close up and around me like a house. 

The repetition and placement of the word rain was so specific in usage, I knew I had to read the book again. I needed to discover why the word had such a hold on me. Or was I reading too much into the writing? To my delight I uncovered that Therese Walsh’s strength of intention as a writer is coupled with a playful purpose to manipulate the reader’s understanding of character.

Between Jazz and Olivia there are at least forty references to the words, rain, storm, drown and thunder. The majority of these references have nothing to do with actual weather. They are used to amplify the inner turmoil within Jazz and Olivia brought on by their mother’s unexpected death. Beth, however, never uses any of these words. The word she chooses to repeat in her letters is tsunami. Tsunami—a tidal wave of overwhelming proportion, brought about by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. It is the perfect word for Beth, whose first words to us are…

If you live your whole life hoping and dreaming the wrong things…what does that mean about your whole life?

And she is dead by Chapter Two. Walsh’s specificity with words is one of the ways she inspires me as a writer.

While some books only entertain, others offer wisdom and guidance for the questions we might not even have known we possessed, until the appropriate situation was illuminated for us. Jazz and Olivia’s journey is riddled with moments of revelation they had no idea they were searching for.

People give a lot of fancy reasons for what they do, but it usually comes down to one of two things, Hobbs had said. They’re getting something or they’re avoiding something.

I had gotten something…but I was avoiding something too.

—Olivia 

What makes The Moon Sisters special is the way Olivia and Jazz’s realizations entwine with each other. When their interdependence of growth combines the impact for the reader is like an arrow to the center of a target. We can’t help but experience an awakening of our own.

My light bulb moment came through my connection with Beth Moon and her inability to finish her story. Unlike Beth I’ve finished my WIP eight times and am working on the ninth draft. Will I ever be able to move on to the next step, or is there some truth underneath my task I’m avoiding that keeps me locked into the revision process? In the midst of Jazz and Olivia’s journey the idea of reaching the end of my life with an unfulfilled dream still dangling out of reach was so strong, I mourned. But as the Moon sisters grew stronger, broadened their outlooks and faced the truth about their mother’s death, I too understood all was not lost. For like Olivia, I believe hope is an eternal flame that allows us to stay the course and reach our destiny.

The Moon sisters’ journey is born out of love, fraught with fury and fear, and takes us to a place where miracles reveal sides of ourselves and others, we never imagined was possible. Jazz and Olivia learn happiness is determined by how they choose to see and live their lives. Thanks to Therese Walsh’s finely crafted tale, maybe we will do the same

Gather the karma of The Moon Sisters.