The Silent Sister by Liane Moriarty

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D iane Chamberlin’s newest novel is a tale of necessary lies and deep deception that form the relationships of the MacPherson family. Told from the perspective of the two main characters, sisters Riley and Lisa “Jade” MacPherson, it is a haunting tale that promises to stay with the reader long after she closes the book jacket.

“I’d never expected to lose nearly everyone I loved by the time I was 25,” begins The Silent Sister, and from that first line in the first chapter, the reader is drawn into a mystery rich in character development and complicated relationships.
Flashing back in time between the last decade of the 20th century and present day, school counselor Riley is tasked with the burden of cleaning out her childhood home after her father dies unexpectedly. Along the way she uncovers secrets about the supposed suicide of her older sister, Lisa. She finds out that Lisa is alive and living under a new identity. In her quest to discover the truth and to find Lisa, Riley quickly learns to question everyone and everything connected to her childhood and her family. Haunted by the past and determined to figure out puzzling pieces of information that she uncovers in both her father’s trailer and home office, Riley is forced to confront the memories of her sad childhood. As the family scenario she believed growing up begins to unravel, Riley even doubts her own professional effectiveness in working with troubled youngsters.

Child music prodigy and oldest sibling Lisa commits a serious crime as a teenager. About to face trial for murder, she fakes her death with some unexpected assistance and constructs a new life on the other coast as Jade, a runaway escaping her past. Over time, the police give up searching for her, convinced she died, and very few ask any questions. She is able to forge a new existence, re-emerging as a musician in a bluegrass band and living a happy life with her partner, Celia. No one but Jade and Celia know the truth behind why she ran and didn’t stand for trial in the murder of her overbearing music teacher, Steven Davis.

“At one point, Lisa stepped forward from the rest of the group as she had in the airport. Dressed in white, she looked like an ethereal angel as she raised her violin and began to play…” So begins Riley’s desperate search for the truth about Lisa as she watched her sister perform on an old VHS tape found among her father’s possessions.

Compounding the many problems Riley faces in tracking down her sister is their troubled brother, Danny, a veteran of the Iraq war and a semi-recluse. Angry at the world, Danny is a man dedicated to making his older sibling, Lisa, pay for the unhappy family life he and Riley endured. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Danny pursues the cold case of Lisa’s faked death in his own way but for different reasons than Riley. He is protective of his younger sister and conflicted by his emotions for his siblings. Danny is the wild card character in this book whose behavior the reader can never quite predict.

Along the way, readers are introduced to Tom and Verniece Kyles, who manage the RV park Riley’s father, Frank, owned. Tom, a former co-worker of Frank MacPherson, is a surly man who drinks to forget the past and the questionable decisions he made. His wife, Verniece, is the total opposite—sweet, warm and open. She aids our heroine in searching for Lisa as well as the mystery surrounding Riley’s birth, and in the course of events reveals a few character flaws of her own.

Realtor and long-time family friend Jeannie Lyons enters the scene, enhancing the story line and, at first, leaving this reader with mixed feelings about her motives. Jeannie was Riley’s mother’s best and oldest friend, who had a secretive, romantic relationship with Riley’s father after he was widowed. She is the ultimate keeper of the MacPherson family secrets until the past hurls one last surprise at her. Added to the mix is Jeannie’s own daughter, Christine, who appears simpler to understand but is also hiding a checkered past.

Realistic, colorful characters and poignant prose make this story page-turning and believable. The various plot twists will have readers sitting on edge wondering how the characters resolve their disappointments, bitterness and pain. Whether you are a mother, sister, daughter or best friend, this book appeals to all of us as humans. For anyone who has ever wondered about their own family secrets, this author leaves you feeling as if you’re wearing your heart on your sleeve. You’ll cry, gasp and even laugh at the touching way Diane Chamberlain leads us to recognize the ties and lies that bind a family together. HLM