Book Review

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya SISTERHOOD

By Rebecca Wells

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I previously read this book a couple of years ago, but in honor of the movie which was just released, I revisited the Ya-Yas down there in Louisiana and got, once again, into the head of Siddalee Walker.   She is so beautiful with her red hair.  So talented, with a fascinating and all consuming career directing in the theatre.  At the beginning of the book, she has fallen, first into lust, then into love with Conner McGill.  She knows intellectually that she is a lucky woman to have the love and devotion of a man that is her perfect compliment in every aspect and who wants to marry her and cherish her into old age.  And yet, she is SO intent on screwing the whole thing up!

Sidda is a person that has no clue as to how to make a happy existence for herself.  She doesn't understand why.  Even after many hours of therapy.  So she stumbles forward into life, more often doing what's wrong than right in her personal life, while achieving great success and acclaim in her professional life.  Could the ultimate answer be that she grew up in a home where Mom and Dad (but most especially Mom) treated life as though the foundations were placed on unstable bayou silt.   At the very moment when she has found a decent man who wants to be her partner in this life, she feels the sand shifting under her, threatening to pull her under.  So she runs to the solitude of a cabin in the woods of the great Northwest to try and sort things out. 

She calls out to her mother, Vivi, who is angry with Siddalee for having given a magazine interview that turned out less flattering to Vivi's image than it should have been.  Vivi has not only disowned her own daughter but declared her persona non grata to everyone back home in Louisiana.  Sidda begs her mother to forgive her and help her to understand why she is terrified of making a commitment to marry a man she both adores and trusts implicitly. 

When Vivi realizes that Sidda is about to sabotage her relationship with Conner, she comes to the decision to help her daughter, but in a way that only Vivi herself can understand.  For Sidda's quest, Vivi sends a scrapbook, many years in the making, that was put together by Vivi over the course of Vivi's lifetime with her three childhood girlfriends.  These four form the Ya-Yas of the title.

I loved these four Ya-Ya girls and want to sprawl out on a shady porch with them, sipping iced tea and catching a breeze.  I long to listen to their slow southern voices, hear all the town gossip and the intimate little details about what is going on in each of their lives.  They were products, part and parcel, of a time that is no more, except in old movies and books of that era.  These gals were selfish and self-centered in the best spoiled Southern Belle tradition.  Existing at a time when the world catered more to eccentric individuality than happens today.   But, like Siddalee, I'm sometimes deathly afraid of the mercurial nature of these characters.  When they love, they love with all their hearts.  When they out....y'all don't want to be in their sights.  Or you may be sorry you drew their attention and their scorn.

The young Ya-Yas are fascinating creatures -- almost of myth.  They are so complex that they add flavor and more than a dash of spice to the gumbo mixture of life in their corner of Louisiana just by showing up.  Every little tidbit of their youthful adventures and tragedies will tantalize you and have you hungry to pull more detail from the pages of this book, just like poor Sidda sifting through the Divine Secrets memories book.  Sidda is the one who turns the pages of the Ya-Ya's scrapbook and finds savory canapés instead of the seven course banquet she is looking for, but the reader is hungry for more of the story as well.

Frustrated more by what has been left out of the scrapbook than with the bits and pieces of information that are there, Siddalee calls for clarification from the other three Ya-Yas that have been her mother's best and closest friends for over forty years.  Partly with their help and with the loving understanding of Conner, Sidda pieces together enough of the truth to make it inevitable that she try to mend the breach between Vivi and herself.

There may be times when you will cringe at all the hate mixed with love, the neglect coupled with micro-managing and the crass manipulations of several sets of parents that probably would have been better to have finished life childless.  BUT (and this is important!) it would have left the world without the talent of a Siddalee Walker.  For we are to learn, once again, that Sidda is the total sum of all her past experiences.

That having been said, this book is much more joyful than sad.  Much more hopeful than shattering.  More blindingly beautiful in the larger than life strokes of Vivi's complex life as it might have been constructed by an impressionistic painter.  It reminds the reader that most of life is drawn from such messy splashes of color which will only make sense when the viewer steps back from the canvas and sees the picture as a whole.

There are many pages in this Ya-Ya scrapbook.   Perhaps the one story that sums up this lovely book for me and stays with me the most is Lawanda, the Magnificent.   It reminds me that Vivi was doing the best she could to be the best kind of mother she was capable of being.  In today's world, that is a lesson worth remembering.  This may be a primer for how NOT to raise a child.  For we would do well to remember that given the same set of circumstances, a less strong child than Siddalee Walker might have drowned in the bayou water churned up by the likes of the beautiful Vivi.  But cherish this book as a truly original and unique experience, just like the Ya-Yas themselves.

Carol Abbott, Reviewer




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