One of my dearest friends is a writer. Well, actually, many of my dearest friends are writers, but one of them recently published a new book, Sisterhood. While her previous novel, Mira Falling, was published by Hachette, with this one she’s decided to publish an ebook, via Amazon.
I read the book as you read friends books: nervously, hopefully, enthusiastically. What if my friend had written a dreadful book (nope), or a derivative book (nope), or an illogical one (nope). What if, after reading it, I couldn’t think of anything nice to say (I can).
Luckily, my friend — oh, her name is Maria Arena — is a fine writer. A writer whose feeling for character and story shines.
Sisterhood is set in a Catholic boarding school somewhere in Australia: St Mary’s Boarding School for Girls, where the girls live in:
… a three-storey building of dull brown brick. It was set back from the driveway and a little behind the convent, where it seemed to hunch as though waiting to pounce.
Here, Faith (once Heather) lives a circumscribed life, one, as the malevolent Sister Merce insists, is governed by rules. The nuns who oversee the school are distant at best, cruel most of the time, downright evil at their worst. But the exact nature of their cruel natures isn’t stated outright; it bleeds onto the page as Faith (all the girls are given new names when they enter St Mary’s Boarding School for Girls, most of them the names of various virtues) tries increasingly desperately to stay safe and make connections with the other … prisoners.
Faith is lonely here, and increasingly at risk of … well, of something unspeakable … until finally hope arrives. No, literally, an uncertain, fragile but very valuable friend: Hope (once Amy), who arrives with a swagger, and a secret.
The book is a wonderful example of what was recently described as a ‘trapdoor’ story: one that you think is realist for a long time. Or … you think it is except for that strange sound in the walls, that sense of things being not-quite-right, and then–slowly and very satisfyingly, the menacing magic of the Sisters of St Mary’s is revealed.
What I loved most about this book was the way the relationships between the young women are portrayed. Their friendships are tender and brutal, shallow and heartfelt, passionate and uncertain. They are real, full of the wonderfully strange texture of teenage girls’ friendships. Friendships forged in the tempest of adolescence.
You can find out more about Maria, and about her book, on her website.