Author: Susan Rebecca White
Publisher: Touchstone Publishing, May 2010
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
Summary: For more than ten years, Naomi and Phil Harrison enjoyed a marriage of heady romance, tempered only by the needs of their children. But on a vacation alone, the couple perishes in a flight over the Grand Canyon. After the funeral, their daughters, Ruthie and Julia, are shocked by the provisions in their will.
Spanning nearly two decades, the sisters’ journeys take them from their familiar home in Atlanta to sophisticated bohemian San Francisco, a mountain town in Virginia, the campus of Berkeley, and lofts in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. As they heal from loss, search for love, and begin careers, their sisterhood, once an oasis, becomes complicated by resentment, anger, and jealousy. It seems as though the echoes of their parents’ deaths will never stop reverberating—until another shocking accident changes everything once again
My Thoughts: Susan Rebecca White has written an endearing and poignant story about two sisters growing up after the tragic death of their parents, Phil and Naomi. Ruthie and Julia are extremely close as A Soft Place to Land opens. Ruthie, at thirteen, is very dependant on her older sister, Julia, particularly after the death of her parents. Julia is proud to be the big sister, confident in her position as a role-model for Ruthie. But as a 16-year old high school sophomore, Julia thinks about herself and her life most of the time. She doesn't act like the death of her parents caused her much pain. Unfortunately, Susan Rebecca White doesn't focus on the parents' death for more than a chapter or two so it's difficult to be sure.
Ruthie narrates the story and is the sister whose life the book most closely follows. She is more devastated by their parents' death. She already suffers quite a bit from the teenage angst that comes with growing up, and her parents death exacerbates things. Ruthie often compares herself unfavorably to Julia. She thinks Julia is prettier, more popular and dresses better. But intelligent, hard-working and responsible Ruthie is also becoming aware that she and Julia are very different . Ruthie is quiet, observant and there's little she doesn't notice. She's slowly, albeit reluctantly, coming to understand that Julia may not be the "totally awesome" and "cool" person Ruthie believed her to be. Julia is laid-back, concerned with her social life and partying. She enjoys flaunting the rules. Ruthie isn't impressed by this kind of behavior but sometimes wishes she was because doubting her "role model' makes everything more confusing..
Things take a turn for the worse in the sisters' lives shortly after Phil and Naomi's deaths. Ruthie and Julie receive further shocking news that upsets and confuses them. They are too young, inexperienced and immature to realize that this turn of events may be for the best. It is a pivotal occurrence in the sister's lives that revealing here would mean giving away too much of the story. Suffice to say that although initially bewildering and incomprehensible, what the girls learn arguably forces Ruthie and Julia to grow up and become stronger, more focused and successful women who are also aware of the world around them.. The author deserves credit here for letting this part of the story unfold on its own.
Ruthie and Julia have much to learn before adulthood and it won't all be sunshine and roses. They are complex and flawed characters who experience the highs and lows that are part of growing up. I enjoyed following Ruthie's story and rooted for her when things went well and her life was good and I felt for her when she struggled. She was quite likable as a young girl growing up and learning about life. Surprisingly, Ruthie starts exhibiting several unattractive traits as a young woman just when her life looks settled and enjoyable. She becomes exceedingly stubborn, petulant, very opinionated and quick to judge. She is still funny and thoughtful but decidedly unhappy which I found sad, disappointing and confusing.
As with real people, some of the characters in this story we like and some we don't. I wish Susan Rebecca White let us get to know Julia as well as Ruthie. We're limited to seeing Julia as very self-centered and self-absorbed throughout most of the story. I believe that she loves Ruthie but also takes advantage. And when Julia seems to have become more aware of others, more loving and mature, the book ends, so it's too late for us to really get to know her. To her credit, the author paints a very realistic portrait of Ruthie and Julie's relationship.. At times they are very close and share everything but, like sisters everywhere, they don't speak for long periods. When they finally do speak again, their conversations are awkward and stilted because one of them has hurt the other and their trust has eroded. Maturity and experience will teach them, as it teaches most of us, about forgiveness and what is really valuable. We hope that they will find their way back to each other and a solid, good relationship that will help them to have lives they ultimately enjoy and share with each other and others.