Publisher: Random House Publishing Group – Random House, The Dial Press
Date of publication: November 30th, 2021
Genre: Historical Fiction
A young woman in a vaudeville sister act must learn to forge her own path after her twin runs away to Hollywood in this richly immersive debut about love, family, and friendship.
Leaving was my sister’s choice. I would have to make my own.
All Harriet Szász has ever known is life onstage with her sister, Josie. As “The Sisters Sweet,” they pose as conjoined twins in a vaudeville act conceived of by their ambitious parents, who were once themselves theatrical stars. But after Josie exposes the family’s fraud and runs away to Hollywood, Harriet must learn to live out of the spotlight—and her sister’s shadow. Striving to keep her struggling family afloat, she molds herself into the perfect daughter. As Josie’s star rises in California, the Szászes fall on hard times and Harriet begins to form her first relationships outside her family. She must decide whether to honor her mother, her father, or the self she’s only beginning to get to know.
Full of long-simmering tensions, buried secrets, questionable saviors, and broken promises, this is a story about how much we are beholden to others and what we owe ourselves. Layered and intimate, The Sisters Sweet heralds the arrival of an accomplished new voice in fiction.
A young woman is pacing up and down the front steps of my house, her briefcase bouncing against her kneesthe sisters sweet by elizabeth weiss
When I first got the invite to review The Sisters Sweet, I wasn’t too sure if I wanted to read it, let alone review it. But, I read the blurb, and one word jumped out at me “Vaudville.” It was that word that convinced me to read this book. Now that I’ve read it and have had some time to sit on what I have read, I am kind of “meh” about The Sisters Sweet. I have neither good nor bad feelings towards it. Just “meh” feelings, if that makes sense.
The Sisters Sweet is two stories, well three if you count Harriet talking to the Vanity Fair reporter after Josie died. The first story is about Harriet, her relationships with her parents, uncle, cousin, and various men that come and go in her life. The second story is about Josie and Harriet’s parents and their choices in their lives. I didn’t exactly like that there were two separate plotlines. I could have done without knowing about Maude and Lenny’s backgrounds. But it was there, and it did add depth to the story.
The first plotline in The Sisters Sweet follows Josie and Harriet’s rise to vaudeville fame and their ultimate crash when Josie takes off in the middle of an act. After that, the book focuses on Harriet and what her life was like after Josie left. Harriet was left to clean up the mess Josie made and become a daughter who would never disappoint her parents or overbearing uncle. Harriet is living a double life, though. She was partying with her cousin, sleeping around, and drinking way too much. It was a matter of time before everything came crashing down. But at what cost?
The second plotline centers around Maude, Lenny, and their years before the girls. As I stated above, I didn’t think that exploring the traumas, highs, and lows they had before the twins would help. And it didn’t. I could have cared less about Maude, her accident, and her uneasy relationship with her sister’s husband. I also didn’t care about Lenny, his early years, or that he was a lush. It did nothing to change my mind about how horrible they were (and yes, they were awful parents).
The Sisters Sweet was a medium-paced read. That complimented the flow very well. There was some lag in the middle of the book, but it didn’t take away from reading.
I wish there had been more scenes with Josie in them. While she wasn’t likable, I would have liked to see what was going on in her mind. After escaping from her parents, she became almost a footnote in the book. The author detailed her life through the press and movies. I feel that she could have become more personable if she had more of a presence in the book, and it would have made some of the ending scenes a bit more believable.
I did feel bad for Harry. She was the overlooked child because everything centered around Josie. She was the one who was hurt the most when Josie took off. She also had to be strong and had to be an adult at such a young age. I did think that she would go down the same road as her mother (unwed mother), but I was glad when the author decided not to do that. Instead, Harry became a dutiful daughter during the day and a party animal at night.
I was not too fond of Maude and Lenny. They were selfish people and awful parents. Maude was a selfish woman who couldn’t show affection to her children. Later in the book, Lenny is a drunk who puts Harry in situations that no teenager should have been in.
I was very interested in the historical fiction angle of The Sisters Sweet. But, I felt that the book swept over some of the more important historical events. Those events would have added an extra depth needed to the book.
The end of The Sisters Sweet confused me a little. I understood that the entire book was Harry telling the reporter “her” story. But it wasn’t clear about exactly what happened when the reporter left. I have a hunch that it was what I thought it was.
I would recommend The Sisters Sweet to anyone over the age of 16. There are sexual situations, violence, and mild language.