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The Sisters of Summit Avenue


The Sisters of Summit Avenue

Lynn Cullen’s new novel, THE SISTERS OF SUMMIT AVENUE, melds an intense sibling rivalry and family dynamic with a Depression-era malady and the creation of Betty Crocker and her “Bettys.” The book follows sisters June and Ruth, toggling back and forth in time between the early 1920s and 1934. Ruth spends her time alternating between adoring her older sister and stewing about June’s often preferential treatment from their mother, Dorothy.

Even as a child, Ruth feels that June always takes the best of everything, while she is left with the dregs. June is clearly their mother’s favorite, leaving Ruth feeling unloved and unwanted. As they mature, Ruth’s jealousy leads her to betray her sister in a way that has lasting and painful consequences for more than just the two of them. Estranged and bitterly unhappy, both women find contentment elusive.

"Most of the story flows naturally and realistically.... THE SISTERS OF SUMMIT AVENUE is...a solid addition to the historical fiction genre and a highly enjoyable read."

June desperately wants a child but struggles to get pregnant, while Ruth copes with four young children and a husband who is waylaid by the mysterious and incurable sleeping sickness that has stricken the United States and other countries in the 1930s. Dorothy, who lives with Ruth and her family, ultimately invites June and her husband to visit, hoping that the girls will reconcile. While the entire family is under one roof, long-buried secrets slowly come oozing out.

THE SISTERS OF SUMMIT AVENUE provides an almost constant reminder that the sins and choices of parents impact and mold their children for years and often decades. The responsibility of parenting is immense and long-lasting, and the pitfalls of poor decisions or willful ignorance are tough to erase. Most striking is Dorothy’s inability to forget her first love and face his treachery, which leaves permanent scars on her daughters and results in their long-term unhappiness and unfulfillment.

Most of the story flows naturally and realistically. However, towards the end, there is one revelation regarding Dorothy’s first relationship that seems to come out of left field, adding an unnecessary and abrupt element to the narrative. This complication serves to confuse more than enhance the storyline, but thankfully does not impact the book as a whole.

Historical fiction fans will revel in the Depression-era storyline, which draws upon that time period’s fascination with radio personalities, including Betty Crocker. Thinking Betty was a real person, fans often appeared at her headquarters wanting to meet her, and thousands of women sought her advice through letters and phone calls. Cullen cleverly introduces this sideline story by making childless June a “Betty,” one of the countless women employed to test Betty Crocker recipes and respond to the many letters Betty received for both cooking advice and more personal help.

While readers may find the sisters’ stories too neatly resolved, THE SISTERS OF SUMMIT AVENUE is still a solid addition to the historical fiction genre and a highly enjoyable read. The Depression-era tidbits are an added bonus.

Reviewed by Cindy Burnett on October 4, 2019

The Sisters of Summit Avenue
by Lynn Cullen