From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bookshop at Water’s End, here is a lush, heart-wrenching novel about the power of memory, the meaning of family, and learning to forgive.
Ten years ago, Lena Donohue experienced a wedding-day betrayal so painful that she fled the small town of Watersend, South Carolina, and reinvented herself in New York City. Though now a freelance travel writer, the one place she rarely goes is home—until she learns of her dad’s failing health.
Returning to Watersend means seeing the sister she has avoided for a decade and the brother who runs the family’s Irish pub and has borne the burden of his sisters’ rift. While Alzheimer’s slowly steals their father’s memories, the siblings rush to preserve his life in stories and in photographs. As his secret past brings Lena’s own childhood into focus, it sends her on a journey to discover the true meaning of home.
In Henry's satisfying latest novel set in Watersend, S.C. (after The Bookshop at Water's End), a woman returns to the town she fled from and is forced to relive her own recollections while trying to record her father's. Minutes away from marrying who she thought was the perfect man, Colleen instead caught him kissing her sister, Hallie. Grabbing the suitcase packed for her honeymoon, she ran, creating a new life in New York and limiting contact with her family; her ex eventually married Hallie. Ten years later, when her brother, Shane, tells her their father is losing ground to dementia, she reluctantly goes home. Hallie is angry that Colleen abandoned their family, never letting Hallie tell her side. While creating a memory book to help her dad battle his Alzheimer's, Colleen learns that memories and history are often impossible to run from or bury. Readers will be immersed in this moving tale, hungry to learn whether love and family will overcome betrayal, secrets, and heartache.
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There’s no place like home
THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER by Patti Callahan Henry explores the power of memory, the pull of family, and the adage “There’s no place like home” through the perspective of protagonist Colleen Donohue. She is the oldest of three adult children born to Gavin and Elizabeth Donohue, all of whom grew up in Watersend, South Carolina. A shocking betrayal by two-year-younger sister Hallie has kept Colleen on the run as a travel writer, estranged from her sister and away from the rest of the family and Watersend for ten years. At age 35, Colleen is forced home to help her siblings, Hallie and youngest brother Shane, with father Gavin’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and declining health.
The plot of THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER is believable and delivers on family drama, heartrending in the pain of family relationships, mistakes, and regret. Colleen remembers her mother’s blatant fondness for Hallie. At the same time, Hallie laments her father’s obvious preference for Colleen. Yes, there are two favorite daughters in this story! These troubled relationships steer the way the sisters respond to the family crisis and each other, increasing the conflict and disagreements.
Who else knows a person better than their own family, and can therefore hurt them the most? THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER banks on this truth. Two secrets confound family matters and alliances more, one hidden for decades by the parents and one concealed by sister Hallie. The clues along the way build to these revelations, somewhat predictable but still believable and emotionally satisfying.
Mid-stage Alzheimer’s progression is accurately depicted, the way it comes and goes and how confusing it can be to see a loved one lucid one minute and befuddled the next. I especially appreciated the sage advice the siblings received from a social worker named Susan, who advised on how to deal with their father’s progression of dementia:
“This disease and its accompanying problems can bring out the worst in families. Old wounds can open as responsibilities shift.”
“This is an article by Pauline Boss about the myth of closure. I want you to read it. Alzheimer’s is a disease with a pattern of loss. It’s unlikely that you’ll experience the five stages of grief you’ve been taught. I don’t want you to expect it. I’ve discovered that your experience my be more like was Boss calls ‘ambiguous loss.’”
Ambiguous loss indeed. Alzheimer’s can provide decades of that in spades. And dementia adds to the strain on the Donohue family in THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER. Ultimately, the crisis brings this family back together in an emotional and lovely finale as Colleen finds forgiveness and her way back home to family. I recommend THE FAVORITE by Patti Callahan Henry for readers who enjoy fictional family dramas.