Sister Mine
Tawni O'Dell
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Buy *Sister Mine* by Tawni O'Dell online

Sister Mine
Tawni O'Dell
Shaye Areheart Books
416 pages
March 2007
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Sister Mine begins just as the sassy, ballsy Jolly Mount cab driver Shae-Lynn Penrose picks up a couple of teenage girls. They're quite typical of what she sees around her and reflect the self centered, self-destructive attitudes of many of the Jolly Mount inhabitants, most of them survivors of strings of bad relationships, failed diets and drinking problems.

Shae-Lynn herself is a victim of child abuse. Her childhood and her adulthood have been defined by the life she spent with a mean, drunken, abusive coal-miner father, where she felt obligated to endure his endless beatings and he was determined to strip away all of her value as a human.

While Shae-Lynn considered it "part of our hereditary lot in life, " her younger sister, Shannon flew the coop years ago and hasn't been heard from since. Shannon, who was full of a sort of generalized contempt in her ability to not care about anything, has ended up becoming the bane of Shae-Lynn's life. It never occurred to Shae-Lynn that her sister would run away with the intention of never seeing any of them again.

After working for years in law enforcement in both Washington and Jolly Mount, Shae-Lynn is beginning a new phase of her life. Fresh from the jolt of realizing her grown son, Clay, is no longer dependent on her, Shae-Lynn doesn't eschew the traditional role of women. For the first time in her life, she's somewhat relieved she has no financial obligations other than funding her own existence, the major worries of motherhood now well and truly behind her.

Through Shae-Lynn's tough, worldly perspective, author Tawni O'Dell explores what it means to grow up and survive in a town like Jolly Mount as she weaves Shae-Lynn's story into the experiences of the Jolly Mount Five, a group of men who survived a terrible coal-mining disaster and went on to bask in fleeting fame.

Suddenly, a rich woman from Connecticut turns up in town looking for Shannon, accusing her of stealing her baby, then a lawyer from New York appears, intent on a similar agenda. When Shannon herself finally reappears, she comes across as a desperate sentimental wreck and tells Shae-Lynn she's pregnant with her first child.

Something, however, is not quite right; Shae-Lynn doesn't for a minute buy her sister's sob story, certain that Shannon's done a good job of dressing the part of the poor, out-of-work unwed mother only for appearance's sake. Shae-Lynn's suspicions are confirmed when she spies Shannon's expensive handbag containing a Sony cell phone and a costly Ipod; Shannon would never have been able to afford these on her own.

In reality, Shannon has been living the life of a sociopath writ large, a manipulative diva who has discovered the business of selling babies for cash. But she's also desperate, and in her hour of need with all these people so hot on her trail, she hopes that Shae-Lynn will let bygones by bygones and take her in.

While O'Dell keeps her outlandish plot moving along at a brisk enough pace, she once again proves her amazing grasp of the lives, loves, hopes and disappointments of her beloved Pennsylvanian coal mining community. Her characters are always so fully fleshed and believable, seeming to exist in a world where life is tough, harsh and expensive.

O'Dell especially excels at describing this hardscrabble existence of the J&P miners as some of the toughest and most self-possessed men on the planet. But in the end, this is undoubtedly the sexy Shae-Lynn's story as O'Dell refreshingly recounts her heroine's sardonic take on all life's disappointments and rewards.

Click here for Michael Leonard's interview with Sister Mine author Tawni O'Dell

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2007

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