The Sisters

In the tradition of Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, a dazzling debut novel about the family bonds that remain even when they seem irretrievably torn apart…

Growing up in hardscrabble Kentucky in the 1920s, with their mother dead and their stepfather an ever-present threat, Bertie Fischer and her older sister Mabel have no one but each other—with perhaps a sweetheart for Bertie waiting in the wings. But on the day that Bertie receives her eighth-grade diploma, good intentions go terribly wrong. A choice made in desperate haste sets off a chain of misunderstandings that will divide the sisters and reverberate through three generations of women.

What happens when nothing turns out as you planned? From the Depression through World War II and Vietnam, and smaller events both tragic and joyful, Bertie and Mabel forge unexpected identities that are shaped by unspeakable secrets. As the sisters have daughters and granddaughters of their own, they discover that both love and betrayal are even more complicated than they seem.

Gorgeously written, with extraordinary insight and emotional truth, Nancy Jensen’s powerful debut novel illuminates the far-reaching power of family and family secrets.

“You’ll be drawn into the arms of The Sisters as if these women were your own family. You’ll want to hold them, warn them, betray their secrets. But this is a novel, one that is fresh and vibrant and complex. You cannot live the sisters’ lives, but only share in their joy and heartbreak and ultimate triumph. A remarkably powerful book.”
—Sandra Dallas, author of Prayers for Sale

“Nancy Jensen has the natural story-teller’s ability to command attention, but with sophisticated psychological understanding and beautifully crafted writing. The Sisters is a needed novel that will become a very popular classic.”
—Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife

“A beautiful and touching novel about the events and choices that shape not only our lives but the lives of generations to come. Nancy Jensen takes us on an epic yet intimate journey through eighty years, ultimately revealing the flawed but lovely landscape that makes up a family. Her characters will stay with us long after the book’s final pages.”
—Brunonia Barry, author of The Lace Reader

Nancy on the story behind The Sisters

When I was about ten or eleven years old, my sister pushed me into our room and whispered that our grandmother, who had been upset all day, had received a letter telling her that her sister was dead.  I knew about my grandmother’s brothers, but this was the first time I’d ever heard mention of a sister.  I tried to ask questions, but my sister shushed me, telling me I must never ask anyone about it—and especially not Grandma.   Later, my mother repeated the same admonition, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this estranged sister.

Over the years, fragments of the family lore surrounding the sister trickled down to me—though my grandmother still kept silent.  I heard the sister was a tramp and a gold-digger.  Sometimes it was implied that this was why she had been cast out of the family, but other times it was suggested she had turned her back on them.  I could understand how someone might reject a family member.  I could understand how a person might speak badly of the one who had been rejected.  But I could not understand, and I could not stop wanting to know, what kind of offense or betrayal could result in one sister’s deciding to erase another, as if she had never existed.  My grandmother died without sharing the intricacies of her story, so I knew if I was ever going to have an answer to my question, I’d have to write it myself.

Buy The Sisters by using any of the links on the right, and click on “Chapter One” in the drop-down menu to read the first chapter.