• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream by Jeannie Zusy

Zusy's Frederick sisters navigate a complicated, stressful situation and drastic changes with plenty of mistakes, forgiveness, and persistent love that sees them through.

When Maggie gets a call that her older sister Ginny--diabetic but a sugar lover, with intellectual disabilities--needs more help than she's getting living on her own, she brings Ginny and her occasionally vicious dog to live nearby in upstate New York.

But Maggie already has a maxed-out life: she's separated from her husband, she has two boys, she's getting by on a freelancer's pay, and she's just starting to date again. Meanwhile, Ginny is bull-headed, hooked on sugar and porn, and not inclined to cooperate with Maggie's requests--or those of her caregivers.

Zusy notes that the character of Ginny was inspired by Zusy's own brother, and the fictional interactions of Maggie and Ginny feel informed by Zusy's real-life exchanges with her sibling, who also had intellectual disabilities.

I had a tough time pinning down the tone in this roller-coaster story--I wasn't always sure whether Zusy was aiming for what felt like moment-to-moment shifts from playful to alarming to quirky, but it left me a little disoriented.

The difficult dynamic of Maggie's feeling responsible for--yet not parenting--a special-needs, grown sibling is conveyed with all of the awkward, upsetting, challenging elements one might expect.

Maggie is navigating a fraught, tough situation. She provides a safe framework for Ginny with caregivers and an accessible home for her wheelchair, but Ginny has her own money and credit card, and she is obsessed with Hawaiian Punch and Jell-O, and refuses to test her blood sugar. The push and pull of Ginny's strong preferences and opinions and how she is unswayed by consequences was stressful to live through along with Maggie on the page.

Ginny is a fully realized character; Maggie is navigating a messy, complicated life with grace; and their relationship was absolutely the highlight of the book for me.

In The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream, Jeannie Zusy offers a messy, heartwarming family story with dark humor--and a sense that the matter of who's taking care of who is not as cut-and-dried as it may first seem.

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The Frederick Sisters Are Living the Dream is Jeannie Zusy's first novel.

I received an electronic prepublication edition of this book courtesy of Atria Books and NetGalley.