3 out of 4 stars
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Sister Carrie by William H. Coles is a novella about the changing family dynamics between two sisters. After their parents’ death, Jessie takes in her 17-year-old sister Carrie since their older siblings don’t want to take on the responsibility. Carrie soon meets Zamel, an Arab immigrant, after chatting with him on the internet. A quickie marriage, without Jessie’s prior knowledge or consent, causes the sisters to become estranged. When a government investigator approaches Jessie about Zamel’s potential involvement in shady activities, she becomes even more worried about Carrie’s safety.
I enjoyed this character-driven story. Much of the plot focuses on Jessie’s feelings toward Carrie and Zamel’s marriage and the fractured relationship with her sister. Jessie is an interesting, layered character. The emotions jump off the pages as she becomes lonely and concerned for her sister’s welfare. Carrie’s character is not as well drawn. It’s unclear why she is so intent on marrying a man she hardly knows, particularly considering his desire for a green card. While it’s true that some young women are naïve in affairs of the heart, Carrie’s behavior seems extreme.
The plot feels rushed and there are sometimes long jumps in the timeline. The sisters’ periodic encounters are quick with scant details. When Jessie visits her sister’s “home” (basically a rundown garage), Carrie barely lets her inside and pushes her sister to leave. Their meetings at Carrie’s movie theatre job are no better, with offers of free popcorn and talks that end after a few minutes. The choppy dialogue feels awkward and doesn’t seem the way I would expect people to converse.
While the premise of the story is intriguing, I wanted more meat on the bones. The relationship between Zamel and Carrie is not fully explored. He is a compelling, although mysterious, character and I would have liked a little backstory about him.
There are interesting subplots, such as Jessie’s affair with her married boss and the Reverend from her church who harbors romantic feelings toward her. These side stories fit nicely into the plot and give depth to Jessie’s character. The author also tackles the theme of prejudice against foreigners in a subtle and sensitive manner.
This book has earned a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. I struggled with the rating as I was moved by the story and loved Jessie’s character, despite the issues I mentioned. I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy stories about family drama.
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