Reviewed by Emma Crowley
My Sister's Child is the story of two sisters, and one huge question.
Jo is the elder sister, responsible and hardworking. Isla is carefree and has always avoided being tied down. The sisters have always had a strained relationship, but when Isla asks Jo for something that rocks the very foundations of the family that Jo has worked so hard to have, she is horrified. And, as Isla persists in her pleas, Jo fears she will lose the one thing she holds most dearly.
Thought-provoking and compelling, this is a layered and moving story of sisterhood, love and lies and the finely-woven link between nature and nurture that will challenge the way you think about motherhood.
My Sister's Child is the fourth novel from Caroline Finnerty.I loved her last release Into the Night Sky which I reviewed for the blog last year and am secretly still hoping that Jack will get his own novel in the future. But with this new release Caroline has taken us in a completely different direction and written a very topical novel which to me would be an excellent selection for a book club. Caroline poses a huge, thought provoking question one which I couldn't form a clear answer to when I first read of the issue being raised nor do I think I can having read the full book .What if you donated eggs to your sister so she could fulfill her lifelong dream to become a parent? Well, to many that might be straightforward as we would do anything to help our flesh and blood if we could wouldn't we? But then turn the situation around - now you are the one who can't conceive naturally and want to fill the void and having a child would cement everything in your life and complete you. The only problem is there is one embryo left in storage and it is legally your sisters as you waived all rights once the donation was made. Should your sister give you the egg? Did you relinquish all rights to it genetic or not? Shouldn't your sister realise the bonds families have and in a way be able to return the favour considering the happiness your good turn brought into her life? Honestly there is no easy, conventional answer. It's not a clear cut yes or no and in this book Caroline Finnerty takes us on a journey challenging the connections between nature and nurture and I was fascinated by every aspect of this moving and meaningful story.
Isla Forde is nearing 39 and working as a waitress in a cafe. She is single but enjoys some nights now and again with cafe owner Greg with no real strings attached (maybe more so on her side rather than Greg's). Despite sleeping together often she has not gotten pregnant which has not bothered her really until now. Woken up regularly in the middle of the night by these dreams featuring a baby, is it Isla's biological clock ticking telling her she wants a baby? By day she can't stop thinking about babies and begins to feel a physical ache and a need to hold her own child in her arms.'She had heard people describe it as a gnawing hole inside their tummies, pulling deep down into their groins, like a chain grounding them to earth that made them yearn for motherhood'. Isla to me seemed calm and reasonable, she clearly needed to satisfy this hunger and knowing she wasn't in a secure long term relationship she went to to the doctor to get everything checked out and inquire about maybe using IVF or another method. On the other hand we have her sister Jo - a solicitor who does everything by the book is conscientious and a bit of a control freak when it comes to her daughter and also healthy living. Married to Ryan for some years are cracks beginning to appear in the once happy relationship?
Similar to Isla only 14 years previously Jo too longed for a baby and despite repeated attempts at IVF was unsuccessful. Isla stepped in and provided the eggs which in turn led to the traumatic birth of Réitlín the apple of Jo's eye. Réitlín does not know the truth but should she? Jo's view on it is 'Does it matter where the eggs come from as long as she could have a child?'. To me Isla performed the most selfless act and didn't question at all what she was doing instead seeing how her sister was struggling and by one kind act she made a family unit. But Irish law dictated that the egg donor relinquishes all rights to the baby and the birth is the legal mother despite the egg belonging to some else. This could become a thorny issue down the line if the child discovers the truth and wants to find their genetic mother. This whole concept begs the question are we messing with nature? Should we just let everything be and take it lying down that some people are not meant to have a baby naturally. As we all know there are thousands of children waiting around the world to be adopted and given a loving home .Yes this process may take longer but knowing several people who have adopted this is so rewarding.
Isla soon discovers she can't have a baby of her own naturally or though IVF and I so felt for her when the reasons why are explained. It's as if her one act of kindness now was her only chance and she gave it away so generously. You could feel her heart being ripped in two but ever the optimist she turns to Jo fully aware of the one embryo remaining in storage. Now the tables are turning and hopefully Jo can step up and support her sister. When Isla plucks up the courage and tells Jo of her plans and request she does not get the most forthcoming of reactions as Jo believes if Isla can barely support herself how on earth can she rear a child. To be honest I viewed Jo's reaction as just being totally selfish and all about herself and dare I say it she just came across as bloody ungrateful. After all Isla's made her sisters wish come true how can she not just be happy that now Isla wants to experience the same feelings Réitlín brought to Jo and Ryans life? Ok she may not have the most financially stable living situation but as long as you have love and some family support surely that is a start? Jo claims Isla is not responsible enough to parent single handedly. In a way was she thinking I tried for so long with my husband to get pregnant and now you as a single woman can be presented with options like a menu. Where is the justice in that?
I felt so sorry for Isla and what she then goes through with Jo and to also realise that something women take for granted can be snatched away in an instant 'It had sailed past her on a foggy day without so much as a flashing signal to warn her as she was left stranded on the shore'. What followed was a very interesting and impressive insight into a moral dilemma.
It states in the press release that this book will appeal to fans of Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain, yes the subject matter is similar in its relevant but I think the above named authors have a more hard hitting style. Towards the end I felt it became too much about the past and was in danger of losing sight of the main plot but the final two or three chapters made me realise this was necessary and tied up the story well. There is definitely another book here or maybe even a novella but maybe the author feels it is best to leave things as they are. Either way My Sister's Child is a highly recommended read giving plenty of food for thought. Caroline Finnerty has ventured deeper with her writing and is confronting significant, pertinent issues. I for one am really liking this and already look forward to where she will take us to next.
Many thanks to Poolbeg for sending me a copy of this book to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.