This week’s installment of Favorite Titles Fridays comes from Rebecca Wells, the author of the Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood series. I actually first read the first two books in the series when I was in fourth grade, picking them for reading material on my trip to Space Camp. Being as young as I was, much of what makes the books so powerful went over my head, but I still loved them. I picked them up again in high school, and since then, I re-read them every few years and gain a new perspective on these amazing books and their powerful themes of friendship and the relationship between mothers and daughters.
The series is about the relationship between Siddalee Walker and her mother Vivi, with whom she has had a tumultuous relationship her whole life, and the friendships between Vivi and her three best friends, Teensy, Necie, and Caro, affectionately referred to as the “Ya-Yas.” Set in the bayous of Louisiana, each page draws you more and more into the Cajun culture the state is known for. (Fun fact: I live in Louisiana but was raised in Indiana, and made frequent trips down here to visit family and always loved experiencing all the things that make The Big Easy the historical and cultural gem that it is.) All the characters in the books are rich and vividly written, and the stories are incredibly well told and engrossing. Alternating between Vivi’s childhood and the origins of the Ya-Ya sisterhood, Sidda’s childhood memories, and their current lives, they weave a tale of Southern tradition and how one’s troubled childhood informs their adult lives.
When Sidda and Vivi have a falling out, it causes Sidda to spiral, culminating in her calling off her wedding to her fiance Connor. She escapes her situation by fleeing to a friend’s empty, secluded cabin in the woods of Washington state, hoping that the distance and solitude will give her some clarity and space to think about the decisions she is making in her life.
Sidda’s feelings toward her mother are incredibly complicated by Vivi’s actions during Sidda’s formative years and how it effected her the most out of the children since she was the oldest. Little Shep, Lulu, and Baylor were too young to remember some of the more emotionally scarring things they suffered at the hands of their often volatile mother. Sidda’s relationship with her father Shep is much different than the one she shares with her mother. Since Shep was often away working, or staying at his hunting camp, deliberately avoiding being home to escape his unhappy marriage, her issues with him stem from his absence and refusal to step in when things got bad with her mother. With her one-sided memories, she fails to understand what made Vivi behave the way she did because the details were kept from her due to the Ya-Yas and her father Shep wanting to protect her from the reality of her mother’s deep seeded issues. Because of this, Teensy, Necie, and Caro convince Vivi to send Sidda their “sacred” book of Ya-Ya secrets and memories, finally gaining insight into Vivi’s childhood abuse at the hands of her mother, the loss of the love of her life, and her mental breakdown that caused her to be admitted to a mental hospital for months to recover. Having not known about the cause of her mother’s breakdown when it took place, Sidda bore an overwhelming sense of guilt about her mother having to go away, believing it was her fault that her mother had decided to leave them.
Throughout the three books, the relationship between Sidda and her mother is examined with a fine toothed comb, leading them both to a greater understanding of each other, and helps Sidda deal with the issues her troubled childhood have caused her.
The series is an incredibly beautiful story, so incredibly well told, and a brilliant work of fiction by author Rebecca Wells. There is no way you can not be drawn into their world while reading these books, and you can’t help but find yourself wishing you had your own clan of Ya-Yas. The Ya-Yas friendship and devotion to each other often served as a lifeline for the four of them, and when one Ya-Ya was in need, the other three swooped in to be there for them. They saw each other through their darkest of times, celebrated with them in times of happiness, and remained side by side as they lived their lives and raised their children. As Sidda learns more about her mother, she not only gains a greater understanding of Vivi, but of herself as well.
There was a movie starring Sandra Bullock based on the books, but it was a disappointing adaptation, only slightly saved by the excellent casting. Some of the changes made to the story made no sense, and didn’t serve the movie version’s storyline at all, making the changes seem arbitrary and took away important parts of the book’s version of the story that made it as wonderful as it is.
Every woman will see parts of themselves and their relationships with the women in their lives as they read the stories of these strong, complicated, and exquisitely written women. If you have not read these books, I strongly urge you to.
I hope you enjoy this week’s Favorite Titles Fridays, and don’t forget to check back for my interview with best-selling author Ann Brashares, coming soon! Up next: my review of The Girls by Emma Cline, and Movie Monday, where I choose a book to screen adaptation and give my opinion on whether or not the movie did the book justice.