It is our great pleasure to introduce our first ever guest contributor on Edible Books, Rose McAvoy. Some of you may already know Rose from her wonderful blog Our Lady of Second Helpings
which chronicles her journey towards a healthier mind, body and spirit. We are delighted that she has agreed to share her thoughts on a book that changed her life -The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells.
I was so flattered when Natalie and Christina invited me to contribute to the Edible Books blog. They suggested my post be a few paragraphs on “the book that changed my life.” I happily replied with something to the effect of, “sure no problem, I can totally do that!” The process of choosing a book to write about was harder than I anticipated. After a lot of reflection and conferring with friends I have chosen to share my reflection on The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. If you have only seen the film, let me assure you that much of what enchants me about the book was not captured on the screen. Although it has been about a decade since my last visit with the Ya-Ya’s I have read the book several times. Please forgive me if I muddle some of the details.
Louisiana-born Siddalee Walker grew up and made her way North to New York City. Leaving her often aloof father’s plantation and her socially charming but bourbon marinated mother Vivian (Vivi). Siddalee, or Sidda for short, becomes a theatrical director. Her most recent production sparks a candid interview with the New York Times that results in her mother dramatically disowning her eldest child.
The angry and hurt reaction of her mother pushes Sidda into a sort of midlife crisis. In a desperate attempt to find herself, she flees across the country to the quiet shores of Lake Quinault on the fringes of Washington State’s lush temperate rainforest. In the hope of finding that one great thing that will make sense of it all, she hides herself away indefinitely as only the protagonist in a novel is able.
Unbeknownst to Sidda, she already possessed the very thing she was longing for. Against her better judgement, her mother Vivi packed up her own scrapbook and shipped it to Sidda. The book is a visual chronicle of the deep and unwavering friendship of four lifelong friends, the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Their story of sisterly love transcends everything life throws at the girls. Specifically Vivi’s own cold mother, restrictive social constructs of Southern plantation life, young love gone to war, and mental illness that lays sinisterly in the shadows.
It is the method of story telling that continues to give this book a place in my heart. Layer upon layer of life experience are unfolded for the reader. Vivi’s childhood blends into Sidda’s childhood with scenes of sweltering summers spent swimming and sleeping in screened in porches. There are also dark moments. Vivi spends her life trying to stay one step ahead of the darkness of mental illness. More than once she looses her battle and has to leaver her children to seek respite and healing. Modern-day Sidda only remembers her mother leaving. She feels her childhood upheavals left her unprepared for the love showered on her by her new fiancé. All the while the world around them comes to life through the beautiful pictures painted by Wells’s words. The story is sweet, often laugh out loud funny and there are a whole cast of characters to fall in love with.
I personally connected with the characters’ Creole-influenced Catholicism. I enjoy the little ways their almost mystic devotion to God and Holy Mother Mary are woven into their daily lives. The book contains many quotable lines. The one that has stayed with me most was said by Caro, one of the other Ya-Ya’s. “Lent is a long stretch, Pal, a long desert of a stretch” (pg. 300). This rings true for me. Lent is a 40 day period of fasting, austerity, prayer, and penitence in the Christian calendar. It always falls at the end of winter, the longest and dreariest part of the year, and it can feel very very long. Lent ends with the celebration of Easter and the arrival of spring. I think about this quote in the midst of unpleasantness. I remind myself that struggle is what makes the days of brightness so wonderful.
After reading The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, I concluded that our life story begins long before we are born. It inspired me step back and think about the lives of my mother and grandmothers, and their mothers and grandmothers. I imagined the thousands of experiences that shaped the vibrant women they became and are still becoming. Pondering how their experiences have shaped who I have become, and now who my son will become, is empowering. This book has inspired me to find the stories in those tiny experiences and focus on them in my own writing.