‘Sisters in Sanity’ was an unexpected, beautifully titled little gift. I had craved a familiar read the other night and found myself adding ‘Where She Went’ by Gayle Forman to my reread shelf on Goodreads. While there I noticed this title, a fiction publication of hers that I had previously not read. I couldn’t sleep, I had wi-fi and next thing you know, I’m immersed in the book and ‘couldn’t sleep’ became ‘not sleeping due to reading’.
‘Sisters in Sanity’ is told by Brit, a sixteen year old who loves playing with her band and has a free (and kind) spirit. When she was a child, her parents were free spirits, running a coffee shop in Seattle. She can say she coloured with Kurt Cobain, had did book studies with a tattoo artist named Reggie and held court from her reserved table with the musicians and artists who filled her childhood world. Her parents met at a U2 concert: Dad was a roadie, Mom was an audience member who was pulled on stage to dance with Bono. Their artistic spirits extended to their parenting – they would and did go on adventures with Brit, like running away for a month to live on the beach or simply making meals with all purple food. Her mom was the instigator of most of these adventures – dad was the doctor appointment making, lunch packing solid parent. Mom was always freer with her thoughts and feelings. Until one day – as this freeness became oddness and the oddness became paranoia and the paranoia became paranoid schizophrenia – Mom was no longer there. She left them and lived apart with her disease, shattering their family, closing down their coffee shop and leaving Brit without her mother.
Eventually Dad divorces Mom, marries ‘Stepmonster’ and has another child. And Brit – magenta streaked hair, punk rock Brit – is left feeling alone and underappreciated in her family. Told by her father she can’t stay home by herself during a family trip to the grand canyon, she and her dad take a road trip, with the thought that Stepmonster and her half brother will join them. Instead, dad drops Brit at Red Rocks, a teen rehab facility, supposedly to help her be more friendly and open with her new family.
What he doesn’t realize is that he is dropping Brit at not a rehab but a boot camp. Run by Sherrif and Clayton, as well as other pseudo psychologists and professionals, girls are brought there by their families – or taken from their homes by “escorts’ from the camp hired by their families – and put through rigorous activities and demeaning therapies all in the name of healing them. Girls are there because of their sexuality, because of their eating habits, because they don’t quite fit and their parents want a quick fix. If you’re an insurance case, you’re magically progressed through the levels from one to six in three months (the maximum time insurance will pay). If not, you’re there until you make your way through the levels and fully accept yourself as the flawed and messed up person that you are.
Brit is in shock – she may not have wanted to go to the Grand Canyon but she didn’t want to be there! She doesn’t see anything wrong with her lifestyle. Luckily she meets the titular sisters – the rebellious V, Bebe the sex crazed daughter of a fading star, Cassie the lesbian from Texas and Martha, the overweight former beauty queen. They come together during quarry duty – moving rocks from one place to another – and begin to meet at night to support each other through their incarceration. While their friendship does not always run smoothly, they are there for each other, through thick and thin, breakouts and breakdowns. As they try to fight the powers that placed them into this place, they learn more about who they are and what they can mean to each other.
This book was a wonderful view of relationships and friendships. It made me appreciate the relationships I had as a teen with my parents – no matter how challenging I was, I was never placed in a facility such as Red Rock. But it also made me look at friendships and the power that they have to help a person endure trying times. Each girl is a bit of a stereotype and plays to that, yet each one fills a place in the ‘Sisters’.
If I had a critique of ‘Sisters in Sanity’, it would be that it’s unbelievable. Yet, the sad truth is that places such as Red Rock do exist. There are kids ripped from their beds or tricked into going to places where they will be reprogrammed into “good” children. Some of them, like Brit, are in a situation where they are true to how they are raised, it’s just the people doing the raising changed. Others, like her friends, are in situations that overwhelm their parents. Very few of them – if any – need to be there as much as their parents need to put them there. In terms of a discussion piece, this particular book could open discussions on the existence of these places and their purpose.
This book was a great find. I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it to other Gayle Forman fans as well as those looking for a ‘Ripped from the Headlines” tale of woe and friendship. I read it on September 15th on my Kobo. ISBN is 9780060887476.