I love great opening sentences to a book. One of my favorites is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s for Love in the Time of Cholera. “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” This sentence drew me in immediately and made me want to find out why the scent of bitter almonds reminded a character of unrequited love. It was a first sentence that was intriguing and enticing to me, as a reader. When reading Hayley Chewins’ latest novel The Sisters of Straygarden Place, I was hooked as soon as I read her first sentence:
“The house dressed Mayhap Ballastain in blue on the day her sister disappeared.”
Immediately, I wanted to know why the house was dressing a character, why blue, and what happened to the sister. From the start, I found myself drawn in by questions I had and wanted to know more about the world that Hayley Chewins created. As someone who loved her debut novel, The Turnaway Girls, I knew that she was an author who was great at creating original characters and worlds that were lyrical and magical. The Sisters of Straygarden Place are even more so. With her second novel, Chewins shows herself as a writer who weaves not only enchanted tales but is in command of breathtakingly gorgeous language. The imagery and descriptions are vivid and the words live and breathe in a way that not only captures the imagination but allows the reader to more fully live within the world she has created.
When her parents leave, Mayhap is only five, and she discovers a letter that instructs the sisters:
Do not leave the house.
Do not go into the grass.
Wait for us.
Mysterious instructions indeed.
And what happens when one of the sisters breaks those instructions?
The Sisters of Straygarden Place is a riveting story that transports the reader into a unique and eery world populated with enchanted houses, encroaching wildness like no other (silver grass that can speak, floating trees), little black dogs that can crawl into and curl up inside the minds of their owners to help them sleep at night and unraveling secrets.
The Turnaway Girls was one of my favorite books the year it was published. I remember finishing that book and excitedly wondering what the author would write next. As if I wasn’t already impressed with her original & magical storytelling before, I am absolutely amazed & in awe of her talents even more with The Sisters of Straygarden Place. It is a marvel of a book that’s filled with magic and secrets and the bonds and love of sisterhood. What continues to impress me about Hayley Chewins’ writing is her ability to be lyrical without that lyricism overwhelming the story and the characters. She deftly balances her lush language, with strong and richly developed characters that the reader cares about, all the while writing a riveting plot that keeps the reader turning the page to find out what happens next.
When I finished The Sisters of Straygarden Place, I once more found myself wondering what the author was going to write next. I was so blown away by how much she had developed as an author between the two books. I also knew that I would eagerly await anything this masterful storyteller imagined because I know that it will be incredible and unlike anything I had ever read before.