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Book review: <i>Divine Secrets Of The Ya Ya Sisterhood</i> by Rebecca Wells

the cover of the book

Divine Secrets Of The Ya Ya Sisterhood is a book that every daughter should read - an explosion of friendships, lies, honesty, despair, raw emotion, and the complex relationships between generations of women.

The story

Siddalee Walker spent a long time getting where she is today. Countless hours of therapy, only ever returning home to Louisiana when it was absolutely unavoidable, and trying to nurture her own tormented soul and make peace with her complex and difficult relationship with Vivi, her mother.

Now, Sidda is a successful director with a couple of hit plays under her belt and the fiance of her dreams. But an errant news journalist changes all that - by publishing an article in The New York Times accusing Vivi of beating her children. Vivi declares Sidda to no longer be her daughter, and Sidda feels all the hard work she's done getting over her mother is coming undone.

To try and make peace with her mother, she requests the Ya Ya memorabilia - a collection of treasures that Vivi and her tight-knit group of girlfriends have collected over the years. Sidda wants to learn about female friendship, and she thinks that would be the best place. Vivi begrudgingly agrees to send her the treasure-trove of secrets, but doesn't forgive Sidda.

Unsure of anything anymore, she postpones her upcoming wedding and escapes to a small cabin to try and discover the key to her mother's soul through the secrets of the Ya Yas. However, the box asks more questions than it answers, and Sidda finds herself in need of the help of the Ya Yas...

The style

To qualify; this is the second time I've read this book, and I don't cry easily. The first time I read Divine Secrets Of The Ya Ya Sisterhood, I was feeling somewhat emotionally fragile that day. So when I basically cried the entire way through it, I assumed that it was because I had stayed out all night and was feeling sorry for myself. On second reading, however, I've discovered that it wasn't me, it's the Divine Secrets Of The Ya Ya Sisterhood. It's a deeply involving emotional rollercoaster, and I still found it incredibly moving on the second read, even though I was feeling very balanced and had had an excellent night's sleep. On to the specifics:

Siddalee is an absolutely beautiful character, well rounded, emotionally fragile without being annoying at all (which is a difficult feat to pull off, I tell you), and unassuming in her self discovery. The writing is fragmented, switching from character to character and time period to time period, but Sidda is the thread through the story which is essentially her self discovery through the untold stories of her mother.

The use of the "Divine Secrets Of The Ya Ya Sisterhood" scrapbook, which is what Vivi sends Sidda, results in a beautiful multi-texual layering of story upon story, and creates a real sense of several dimensions and time periods happening simultaneously. As the reader, we are privileged to receive information that Sidda does not - for many of Sidda's small discoveries the reader is given a narration by Vivi or one of her friends, clarifying the discovery. These little discoveries cause Sidda a lot of frustration - how can she learn her mother and the secret of her friendships through these surface scraps? But the information does cause Sidda to also undergo some self discovery, and remember the good things about Vivi, not just the bad. I don't want to go on about it too much, but it really is beautifully done.

The characterisation of the Ya Yas is also just amazing. Their personalities are contributed to by the records in the scrap book, but also their personal narrations from when they were young, how they now interact while they're old, and of course, how they are viewed by each other, in each other's narrations of events. The ladies are so beautifully crafted, and there is no selfconsiousness about the writing at all. Rebecca Wells has done an wonderful job creating the complexities that so often surround the relationships of women, mothers and daughters - and avoiding any stereotype or easy way cop out in her telling. Look, now I'm babbling. Just read the damn thing, okay?

Who is this book for?

I did say that every daughter should read it; this is because generally as daughters we tend to see our mothers in two dimensions. Just mother, not person. Divine Secrets Of The Ya Ya Sisterhood really gets you thinking about the person your mum is, and the history she had before you. But I also think that any child, male or female, could extract value from this reading experience. It really is about relationships with your parents, and what it means to grow up and get old and dream and other such related things. I would recommend it to anyone, unless you're feeling particularly fragile and overly emotional, in which case I might say save it for another day.

If you like this book, you would also like...

Little Altars Everywhere is Rebecca Wells's first book, also about the Walkers, and it's great too. Also, Jeffrey Eugenides, who wrote Middlesex. Which is more a tale of self discovery, but is beautifully written and does a bit of the family history thing too.

In short

Title: Divine Secrets Of The Ya Ya Sisterhood
Author: Rebecca Wells
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN: 0060173289
Year published: 1997
Pages: 356
Genre(s): Contemporary literature
Review Type: