Title: The Good Sister
Author: Gillian McAllister
Source: Free ARC from G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from G.P. Putnam’s Sons via NetGalley. I pride myself on writing fair and honest reviews.
“An electrifying novel about the unyielding bond between two sisters, which is severely tested when one of them is accused of the worst imaginable crime.
Martha and Becky Blackwater are more than sisters–they’re each other’s lifelines. When Martha finds herself struggling to balance early motherhood and her growing business, Becky steps in to babysit her niece, Layla, without a second thought, bringing the two women closer than ever. But when Layla is found dead one morning, at only eight weeks old, Becky is charged with the unthinkable: the murder of her sister’s child.
Nine months later, Becky is on trial and maintains her innocence–and so does Martha. Unable to shake the feeling that her sister couldn’t possibly be guilty, Martha sets out to uncover exactly what happened that night, and how things could have gone so wrong. As the trial progresses, fault lines between the sisters begin to show–revealing cracks deep in their relationship and threatening the family each has worked so hard to build. With incredible empathy and resounding emotional heft, The Good Sister is a powerhouse of a novel that will lead readers to question everything they know about motherhood, family, and the price of forgiveness.”
Though this book seems to be widely classed as a mystery, I find it difficult to fully agree with that categorization. While there is most definitely a mystery at play, a question that, as a reader, you need answered, it isn’t really what this story is about.
When Martha’s baby dies of asphyxiation, while under the care of her sister, her family fights to keep itself together. Forensics and testimony are pretty damning, but Martha knows her sister Becky better than most, and she wrestles with the question of her guilt or innocence throughout the trial. But it is not just the question of who killed her baby and why that she struggles to work through, but also her own guilt, her questions about her marriage, and her relationship with her family who cannot and will not take sides.
Throughout the book, key characters – mostly Martha, occasionally Becky, and many of the witnesses – provide information about the events leading up to the smothering death of little Layla. It seems so clear cut that her sister is guilty, but Martha cannot reconcile what she knows about her sister with what is being laid out in the courtroom. What could make her sister do such a thing? And if it wasn’t her, who was it? Does Becky know who it is, and, if so, why isn’t she telling?
Meanwhile, Becky is out on bail and living with their parents. Not only has Martha’s infant daughter died, she now has limited access to the support system she would normally lean on in a crisis, leaving her with only her husband, who is fighting his own guilt about what happened, who disappears for hours at a time without a clear explanation of what he’s doing.
At the core, this book is about relationships, character, expectations, and love. The mystery of Layla’s untimely death is the lens through which these topics are examined, but not necessarily the star of the show. My hunches about what happened came strong and early and ended up being dead on. There is no real suspense, no nail-biting, no cleverly laid misdirects. Instead we have a lot of soul-searching, contemplation, exploration of past relationships, questioning of past experiences, sadness, guilt, and all the feelings that come along when a mother leaves her child in the hands of someone she trusts and that child dies. Don’t read this book for the mystery, read it for the deep dive into different types of family relationships, read it because you love a character-driven book.