Across the Page: Must Reads

The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard (William Morrow)

Joyce Maynard’s new novel tells the multifaceted story of Ruth Plank and Dana Dickerson. Born on the same day and at the same hospital in a small town in New Hampshire, the girls are considered "birthday sisters." Though from the looks of it, perhaps that’s all they have in common.

Ruth grows up surrounded by sisters and stable parents on a farm that’s been in her family for years. Yet, she has always felt a coldness from her mother that she could not explain. It’s a distance that she attributes, in part, to her love of art, rather than the domestic and community-based interests of her mother and sisters.

Dana and her rootless family are the complete opposite. Her father is erratic and always chasing down and then wasting their money on his next "big idea." Her mother is unable to cope with her role as a parent and escapes in her painting. And Dana’s beloved brother Ray is so sensitive that she worries whether he’ll be able to survive the world at all.

Dana, on the other hand, is reliable. She wants to work with the land. She wants a life of stability, eventually creating one for herself when she settles down with another woman, Clarice.

As the story unfolds, Ruth and Dana recount their very different lives and upbringings, and questions arise in Ruth’s mother’s insistence that they in touch with Dana’s family. These questions, which haunt the novel, explode in a powerful revelation when Ruth and Ray get together as adults.

In addition to being a beautiful and engaging story, Maynard deftly captures Dana’s struggle to come to terms with her sexuality in the midst of her family’s instability. And her relationship with Clarice is one of the strongest in the novel. Highly recommended.