Esther Brown’s family is falling apart around her. Widowed and re-married with two daughters, Esther is unable to control her eldest daughter Geneva’s wayward ways and sends her to live in Ivy Glen with her sister Prudence and her husband, Brock Langtry. Esther’s attempt to find salvation for her child sets in motion a series of dramatic events that tests the bonds of one family as they discover ‘Family Secrets.’
Based-in-fact, ‘Family Secrets’ is set in a 1920’s Chicago suburb and told from the perspectives of multiple family members. This dramatic tale has it all: passion, betrayal, deception, forgiveness and a glimpse into the unconditional ties that bind a family together.
Except for a short phase in secondary school where everyone read Danielle Steel and Jackie Collins, I seldom read books on love, relationships and family. Rather, I read V. C Andrews, starting with ‘Flowers in the Attic‘. I remembered one of my teachers snatching my V. C Andrew book, during the obligatory but much loved 20 minutes of reading time every morning before class, and flinging it across the room. She deemed it scandalous and incestuous. After that, we exchanged the books amongst ourselves even more aggressively. And when I reached college, I veered towards mystery and crime.
This book brought me way back to those secondary school days and I enjoyed it. I have never read a book set in America in the 1920’s, much less a book that I know nothing about. I did not go online to read other readers’ summaries as well. It started off a bit slow for me, and the first 50 or so pages were not terribly exciting. The chapters were also told in many different ‘voices’ and it took a while for me to remember how each extended family member were related to each other. But I realised I was reading faster as the pages flew by.
Esther Brown is a typical wife and mother in the 1920’s and life was hard for women then. Hopes and dreams were dashed and life goes on. She epitomises the women of that era, who put aside their own aspirations and loves, to fulfil what society wants and expects from them. When she starts seeing herself and her past in her eldest daughter, Geneva, she decides to send her away to her richer and more successful sister, Prudence.
But life changes for all of them in ways that none of them expected and they decide to fight for what they want and deserve. The story expands to include more family members and each one brings a different perspective. The essence of this story is not new but Kohl articulates their pain and passions beautifully.
With a giveaway title like ‘Family Secrets’, I was waiting for the start of the ‘bomb’ to drop all through the first part of the book. Candice Kohl touches on ancient themes and emotions like the mother – daughter, husband – wife, sister – sister dynamics and it is infused with emotions of first love, lost love and forbidden love. Combined with adultery, betrayal and necessary obligations, it makes for an enticing read.
And you realise the crux of it all – every family has its secrets and we all live with it, whether we like it or not.