I was drawn to this story because like Taisy, I have a twin brother. I was not disappointed. Among other things, I really enjoyed reading about the close relationship they shared. The book was written well and read superbly by Arielle DeLisle and Abby Craden who completely got into the characters’ psyches. As I listened, I could actually visualize each character as a real person. They were very gifted readers.
The story carefully develops the lives of Eustacia Cleary (Taisy), and Willow Cleary. Born 18 years apart, Willow’s birth caused cataclysmic changes in Taisy’s. Taisy and her twin brother, Marcus, lived with their mom and their dad, Wilson Cleary, somewhat happily, until Taisy’s boyfriend, Ben, discovered her dad with another woman, a young and very pregnant one. Wilson Cleary’s secret affair caused major changes in their lives. Wilson Cleary can only be described as a very selfish, egotistic, narcissistic, sometimes cruel and mean, pompous man, living in a world of his own creation; but he is brilliant, none the less, and he is a quite accomplished and well-respected scientist and teacher.
The chapters alternate between Willow and Taisy, revealing many similarities and parallels in their lives. Unbeknownst to each other, each was wrenched suddenly from an environment in which they were comfortable and thrown into an alien place for which they had no frame of reference. When young, Taisy, like Willow had a childhood sweetheart. Both made foolhardy decisions that wreaked havoc on their lives and had serious consequences. Both felt the burden of sibling rivalry for many years, resenting any attention given to the other, believing it to be unfair. Both believed they owned the right to their father’s love, but Taisy, with her family, was totally rejected, while Willow was embraced wholeheartedly with unfettered joy by her father and her mother, Caro, Wilson’s new wife. Both had to learn to navigate their new surroundings and the changes in their lives. How they worked out their problems presented an interesting and thorough investigation of their personalities and character. Their struggles united them.
Taisy was a free spirited young teen. She had angered her father with her behavior, which was oddly similar to his in its imprudence, but he never saw any of his own behavioral mistakes. After her mom moved the family away from their home town, because of Wilson Cleary’s indiscretion and the divorce, Marcus completely rejected their father, but Taisy continued to want his love and approval, an almost impossible task, for the following decade and a half. Wilson was judgmental and harsh and seemed to live in another time frame. He wanted nothing to do with his “first” family and totally divorced them from his life after a scene at his home at Willow’s first birthday celebration. Wilson’s manner of speech was more like that in a classic novel than that of a current day father. He was very formal and demanded strict obedience. His rules were immutable. He was not affectionate toward the twins, but he was openly affectionate toward Willow, whom he home schooled and kept very sheltered. However, he created enormous family tension with his distorted view of life because it was exceedingly difficult to live up to his high expectations..
Willow was a naïve child, never really allowed to be a child. She mimicked Wilson and spoke with his formal speech making her sound a bit pretentious and haughty. She was not well socialized with other children. She made snap judgments about people when they made her uncomfortable or she did not understand them. She was lonely and imagined herself in love with her English teacher, Mr. Insley, who was also lonely and lacking in judgment, although he was 30 to her 16 years.
As the reader tries to understand why Mr. Cleary is so difficult and demanding, and tries to understand what shaped his character, the book circles back and exposes his difficult childhood. As the reader discovers his secret, painful past, and reflects on his current arrogance, it may be difficult, still, to view him with kindness. He has created feelings of anger and pain in the children from his rejected family, possibly without realizing that he, like his own bitter and cruel father, was behaving badly.
The ending is a bit like a fairy tale with everyone hoping to have a love fest that runs amok. The reader watches as two parallel families attempt to work out their problems with some degree of success and two evolving love stories resolve themselves happily. For sure, the reader will not be bored.