Review (Plus): The Secret Language of Sisters

Bookshelf Blurb: One simple text message is all it takes to shatter the lives of two sisters, who must learn how to survive with the remaining guilt.

Ms. America’s Review:
I have two sisters who send me group messages and pictures on a regular basis. We live in three different states with miles between us, so it is easy to send a quick text to ensure a quick response. When I hear the *ping* of my cell phone, I feel I must pick it up immediately to respond. Yet it is a similar text conversation between sisters–and a similar hurried two-second response–that lands one sister in a coma and the other dealing with the guilt of sending the message in Luanne Rice’s heart-wrenching young adult debut novel, The Secret Language of Sisters.

Mathilda Mae, affectionately nicknamed Tilly, and her sister, Ruth Ann, nicknamed Roo, are the McCabe sisters: polar opposites but best friends. With two years separating them, Roo is the textbook older sister; she shelters and protects her little sister. Roo has the stronger personality; she knows her life path and will not allow obstacles to get in her way, while Tilly is a free spirit who has a zeal for life but no clear direction.

It is a clear, beautiful morning when Roo takes advantage of a few hours on the beach before she has to pick up her sister from the museum. Roo is a gifted photographer who is creating a photography portfolio for her admission to Yale when she gets a text from Tilly reminding her she is late to pick her up. Roo ignores the first few as the light on the beach is perfect, but she finally climbs in her car to go rescue her sister. She picks up her phone to quickly text Tilly she is en route, but when she glances up at the road she sees her car has veered off the road and is headed straight for an older lady out walking her dog. Roo overcorrects the steering, and with a sickening crash, hits the dog and careens into a ravine, where the car rolls and traps Roo inside.

The innocence of a two-second text message response sparks in both sisters extreme emotions, and LuAnne Rice brings her readers along for the emotional ride. The fear and suspense of the car crash, followed by Tilly being picked up hours later by Roo’s boyfriend, Newton, is devastating. The minute details throughout the book made my heart ache for the entire family. The chapters alternate the voices of the two sisters, allowing for the reader to become immersed in both sides of the story.

When Roo wakes, she is in a hospital bed without any ability to move her body–though she can see and hear everyone. It takes her sister to help discover that Roo is not in a coma, but is in a state of what doctors call “locked-in.” She is still the brilliant wonderful Roo, but is a quadriplegic without any way to communicate with the world.

To have a sister to know your heart, your mind and your memories is a wonderful gift. It takes an amazing sister to forgive what is in the past and move on to the prospects of the future. This book shows those loving steps, and I will share this book with every woman I know who has a sister.

In the classroom:
According to the National Safety Council, in 2011, 11 teens were killed every day from texting while driving. Finding current data was difficult, as the numbers are ever-increasing and the reality is the same: Don’t text and drive!

Can your building create a no-texting campaign? What incentives can your student body offer to alleviate this travesty? I cannot give you lesson plans for this book, but instead I want you to figure out how in your schools or your classrooms we can change what happened to Roo, Tilly, their mom, Newton and their entire high school. This book is a work of fiction, but after poring over the internet to find statistics, I find this truly could be a work of nonfiction.

The Secret Language of Sisters by Luanne Rice (Point |9780545839556 | February 23, 2016)

America Grelinger

America Grelinger doesn’t mind if you call her Ms. America. It makes her head swell and she loves the title. America is a former English teacher and has a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, now retired to raise two crazy little boys who think the funniest thing on the planet is to burp and toot… which is why she reads. Because it’s cheaper than counseling. Amy and her husband live with those two crazy little boys in Derby, Kansas.