Who holds your secrets?
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Allie is devastated when her sister commits suicide-and it’s not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.
Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.
But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her.
Full disclosure: I was attracted to this book for all the wrong triggering reasons. A little backstory: Much like the protagonists Allie and Leah, as teenagers, my cousin Melody and I also had made a “pact” to bail out if life took a turn that we couldn’t handle. Flash forward to 2013, and Melody bails out in the worst way possible but also breaking the pact that had made where we would’ve made the decision together. Now, six years later, I am still trying to figure out what I could’ve done or said to make her not wish to want to go. In a way, in these six years, I’ve tried to experience all the things that I knew Melody wished to experience or travel to places she would’ve wanted to. In other words, I’ve tried to live for both of us.
My first book from Stacie Ramey was It’s My Life, and despite the protagonist having cerebral palsy, it wasn’t as dark or heavy as The Sister Pact. There was a stark contrast between the two novels. In It’s My Life, Jenna had to deal with a chronic illness, however, she had a loving family and friends. But in The Sister Pact, the protagonist Allie has to deal with a highly dysfunctional family and awful friends that betray her. What I’m trying to say is, this book was very, very dark.
Ramey doesn’t sugarcoat anything and instead depicts grief and depression in a very realistic way. At times, Allie’s pain is so palpable and visceral that you can almost feel it as your own. I found it to be a very powerful and moving novel. Which seeing that it was this author’s debut novel to boot, she really came into the writing scene with a serious bang.
And although the subject matter of the novel is extremely dark (suicide, depression, drug abuse) it isn’t dreary for the sake of being so. You understand why Allie makes the bad choices that she does. But ultimately, she finds the strength to want to live, even if her older sister Leah, whom she looked up to, isn’t there with her anymore. The end was uplifting and hopeful. And in a way, it made me feel a little hopeful about my own grief over my cousin’s death.
I recommend this for anyone who wants to read a novel that discusses serious topics and has some real feelings.
Short Q & A With the Author:
Jenna and Allie have dramatically different families. One is very loving and supportive while the other is highly dysfunctional. How do you think their families contributed to your protagonists’ personalities?
I think that’s the point, isn’t it? I mean, Allie has to overcome a lot of things. Her sister’s suicide. Her parents’ divorce. Her feeling that her world is unraveling. We understand that her family’s struggle has contributed to her issues, but we also see that she’s undergoing complicated grief which is a type of grief where Allie feels slightly complicit in her sister’s death in addition to everything else and she’s not coping well. But we don’t really blame her because it’s really too much for her and that’s what makes it so empowering to see her crawl out of it and find some hope.
As for Jenna, she has tons of support, but she’s stopped believing in herself. She’s given up on herself and haven’t we all done that at some point in our lives? Her family’s support is constant and wonderful, but it’s also something she’s trying to break away from in order to take the next steps in her life. All teens go through this. Jenna struggles with how to accomplish this in the wake of her disability. Some people have described her as self-pitying, but I don’t buy that. I believe that wish-fulfillment fantasy that she has of being a better version of herself is very typical and her response to the limitations of her body is very believable and deserves our witness, not our judgment. Just my opinion.
In both novels, the protagonists are academically smarter than the classes they decide to be in for themselves. Jenna decides to take easier classes because she is absent from school a lot due to her condition, while Allie decides to take lighter courses because she’s distraught over her sister’s suicide. Do you think this was a subconscious effort for both of them to control one aspect of their lives since they had no control any other way?
Yes. They each try to control their lives in any way possible. Teens have a ton of pressure on them these days (I mean they always have but now we expect them to be little adults from the time they can talk and make decisions).
For Allie, some of the adults in her life are trying to ease her burden, although interestingly enough, her parents do not share this viewpoint. They keep looking for reasons to believe Allie is ok and they look to her progression through typical milestones such as graduating on time and staying focused on getting into a high-pressure college as a means for evaluating her condition. I believe they should, instead, as her guidance counselor suggests, take time to heal, but when bad things happen, we tend to want to get back to business as soon as possible. It’s the wrong way, in my opinion.
As for Jenna, she is definitely trying to flex her decision-making muscles here. It’s not a good decision to go into lower classes, and she regrets it, but sometimes we have to allow ourselves to make bad choices in order to figure out what works and what doesn’t. She’s always fought as Daddy’s little warrior, but now she’s trying to work out who she is now and, more importantly, who she wants to be.
What was your inspiration behind both novels?
It’s My Life was actually the first book I ever wrote even though it was the fourth book I sold. I really wanted to tell the story of a girl who has a disability who gives up on herself and then has to work to find herself again. It was important to me that she has a fully supportive family, because I wanted her struggles to be with herself and how she sees herself. While I do not have cerebral palsy or a mobility disorder, I have struggled with invisible disabilities my entire life. I am the youngest of very capable older siblings and have many times felt lost in my life’s course, even while having my family’s support and love and, like Jenna, I’m still trying to figure out who I am supposed to be.
The Sister Pact was based on a few different things, some easy to discuss in this space, some harder. Mostly, I wanted to write the story of two groups of people who both had the same intent-save Allie-but were in complete opposition on how to do that. In this case, it’s kind of Allie vs her parents and even though both sets of people want Allie to heal, initially they don’t understand the other person’s intentions and methods so they work in conflict with each other. It was really an experiment and I’m glad it worked out that both groups could work together. I also wanted to show how mental health issues can look completely different from what we might expect in this case, Allie’s sister is super successful, all the while she’s battling consuming depression, as is Allie’s mother. I wanted to show how we try to act like everything’s ok when it’s all falling apart. Also, I wanted to show sisters who are so close they tell each other everything, except any of the important things.
Are you currently working on a new project?
I am currently writing a retelling of a Yiddush Fairy Tale. It’s a lot of fun.
*Thank you so much to the author for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
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