Book Review: The Secret Language of Sisters by Luanne Rice

The Secret Language of SistersThe Secret Language of Sisters
Luanne Rice
Point, February 2016
ISBN: 978-0-545-83955-6

Roo and Tilly are not only sisters, but best friends. Older sister Roo has a steady boyfriend, Newton, of two years standing, but is feeling like maybe their relationship needs to go away since they’re heading to different colleges next year. Tilly is in flux as are most fourteen-year-olds, unsure of her path in life and terminally impatient. Since their father died of a heart attack not long ago, she feels even more at sea because he taught her to feel free at night as the two of them went looking for owls in the dense forest near their seaside home in Connecticut.

Roo’s thing is photography. She has an amazing ability to catch shades of light and darkness and as the story opens, she’s taking what she hopes will be the last few great shots she needs for her entry in a prestigious competition for high school seniors. Tilly is waiting in her usual impatient mode at a local museum for Roo to pick her up. She sends multiple texts when Roo is a couple minutes late. Despite knowing that texting while driving isn’t smart or safe, Roo sends one to chill her sister’s impatience. When she looks up from her phone, she’s about to hit a dog being walked by an older woman.

Roo manages to avoid seriously injuring the dog (it suffers a broken leg), but her car flips, ending up in the salt marsh. When Martha, the owner of the dog approaches the car, Roo, hanging upside down and bleeding from her head, is more worried about the dog’s welfare than her own. After suffering an injury-induced stroke, Roo is unable to move or communicate, but is able to hear and understand everything around her. It takes a while before her condition, Locked-In Syndrome, is correctly identified and she’s moved to a Boston hospital where a specialist in the field from London works with her.

While Roo is making her painful, arduous way to recovery, everyone else in her life is a mess. Tilly blames herself, Nelson blames himself (he also texted her that afternoon), the press jumps all over the situation because of the driving while texting aspect and the girls’ mother, already grieving because of her husband’s death, can’t seem to avoid jumping on the blame Tilly bandwagon.

How Roo recovers, what happens between her and Nelson, how Martha’s own experiences while her sister died come into play as a healing aspect in Tilly and Roo’s re-connection and where everyone stands by the conclusion makes this an amazing read. The ending is realistic and satisfying. This is Luanne Rice‘s first YA novel and she has done a great job. I had to stop reading twice and wait a couple days before picking it up again because of the intensity. Granted the issue of texting while driving gets hammered on a bit too much, but that’s a very tiny quibble about a great book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2016.