I first fell in love with Jane Green's work when I picked up a copy of Jemima J. I was single and unhappy, and I so deeply related to Jemima J's story of wanting to be someone different, someone worthy of love. I loved how Jane wrote with such ease, as if she were speaking directly to me. And I loved how she laid bare Jemima's struggles with her weight.
After that, I tore through every Jane Green book I could find. And not much has changed for me. I still love Jane's work, I still anxiously await her new releases, and I still devour every page.
Jane's writing has evolved and changed, as her life has. And it feels like I've grown up, right there with her. Her latest novel, The Sunshine Sisters, comes out June 6, and it's the story of one superstar mother and her three very different daughters. When she learns of a serious illness, she asks her daughters to all come home again.
I know, June is a long time to wait for a Jane Green novel.
But never fear: we've got a exclusive sneak peek at the book for you right now!
Meredith doesn't mind that Lizzy has left to meet Ryan and she is left to clean up the house. It's what she does, after all: takes care of things and cleans up other people's messes. Other things she does? Not complain when she is living in London and comes home to be with her family, only to find her mother is not there. She's learned not to complain about her mother. She learned from Nell not to flinch at her mother's raging but to slip quietly out of the room as quickly as she could. Then she figured out on her own that, sometimes, bringing her mother a big glass of wine would calm her down. In the end, that was the difference between the three sisters. Nell would disappear. Meredith would try to please. And Lizzy would ignore it.
When the house is finally back in order, including the cabinet in the kitchen fixed, Meredith sits on the back porch with a beer, one of the few left after Lizzy's party. She puts her feet up on the ottoman, smiling as she sips and looks out at the treetops, enjoying this reunion with the peaceful view.
You can't see the water from the house, but you know it's there; you can smell it. The light is different too. Whatever bad memories this house contains, it is still, it will always be, home.
In the corner of the yard, hidden by the darkening sky, is the trampoline. Lizzy was the one who loved the trampoline the most, but Meredith would lie on it for hours with her friend Rachel, the two of them talking about everything under the sun. Every now and then Meredith's mother would rap on the window to get them to jump, to exercise, but as soon as she disappeared they would flop back down on their bellies again.
At the bottom of the hill is Longshore, where she learned to play tennis, badly. Where she went every day during summer in the hope that one of the pool lifeguards would notice her, that she might finally have a summer romance.
She never did. They never noticed the chubby girl with the mousy hair and sweet smile, but that's okay. She found her solace, her romance, the life she should have been living, in the pages of books. And now, at nineteen, she finally has a boyfriend. A fellow student at University College London, he is studying PPE (philosophy, politics, and economics) and she switched her major to study the same.
She had originally thought about Goldsmiths or Central Saint Martins, wanting to do a degree in fine art, but her father hadn't understood. "How will you make money from art?" he had asked, bemused. And so she had applied to a number of universities in the UK, choosing English as a general degree.
She soon found she was doing less and less of the art she had always loved. There wasn't the time. She was involved in the student union and had joined the bridge club. Which was where she met Gavin. They formed a team, and a friendship, which grew into a romance after he stammered that he wanted to take her to a film one night and perhaps for a bite to eat afterward.
They went to the Everyman in Hampstead to see Good Will Hunting, and then to Maxwell's for a burger and terrible fat, soggy French fries that were nothing like the French fries she was used to in America.
She found Gavin very nice, if a little odd. He had a mop of black curly hair, and tortoiseshell glasses, plus a nervous tic of clearing his throat, which she found endearing and sweet. His trousers were always a little short, and his socks a glistening white. He wasn't exactly the romantic hero she had pictured herself with, after all those years of losing herself in the pages of hundreds of novels, and she wasn't exactly attracted to him, but he really, really liked her, and she liked him enough to give it a go.
What she really liked, though, was having a boyfriend. She would insert it into every conversation. At the corner shop she would say, "Oh, and can I have some Polos for my boyfriend?" At the sandwich shop she would say, "I'll have an egg salad with lettuce, tomato, and cucumber, and my boyfriend will have Coronation Chicken on a bap, please." When strangers struck up conversations with her, she would casually insert "my boyfriend" as soon as she could, just in case the encounter ended quickly and she'd lose the chance to mention to the universe that someone loved her, that she was finally, finally enough.
Being able to say she had a boyfriend, being able to insert the fact into conversation, transformed her in the eyes of the world. Or so she thought. No longer would they see her as a shy, overweight American girl who had never fit in. Now she was one of them! Whoever "them" might be. And it was very nice being adored. Gavin did adore her. He didn't show he adored her with flowers and chocolates, but he did buy her a fancy set of cards for bridge, and he always paid when they went out for dinner, and he kissed her when she went back to his flat one night to watch a video.
Meredith had been kissed by three boys before, but never as enthusiastically as Gavin. After that first kiss their relationship progressed and now they are sleeping together, but it isn't quite what she expected either. She has yet to experience the elusive orgasm, and sex always seems to be over quickly, after a little bit of awkward thrusting in and out. But she does love the cuddling afterward, and Gavin is very good at cuddling.
The problem is it's hard to find a place to cuddle. He can't come back to her place because she's living with her grandparents in Hampstead. As a result, she and Gavin are spending more and more time at his slightly grungy flat off Goodge Street. Now that they are officially an item, her grandparents seem to be fine with her spending the night. Judging from their stories about her mother, whatever Meredith did was tame by comparison.
Moving to London for university was the best thing she ever did. Moving away from her mother was the best thing she ever did. She misses her father and her sisters . . . well, Nell . . . but the strain of having to look after her mother and keep the peace was too much. However lovely it is to be home, she thinks, it is even lovelier to know that it's temporary.
Not that things are easy with her father. He has remarried, to a woman named Selena, who was initially very nice to all the girls, taking them for pedicures and manicures when they came to stay, taking them out for "girl's lunches," insisting they be flower girls at the wedding.
And then Robert and Selena had a daughter, and the girls were swiftly sidelined, no longer welcomed, no longer part of this new family. They all tried, staying with their father's new family for the holidays. But they couldn't help noticing that Arianna, their half sister, received armfuls of gifts for Christmas, while they each got a small, single gift. Arianna's bedroom was like a perfect fairy-princess palace, while they had to share the attic when they visited, sleeping in mismatched beds and stuffing their clothes in old drawers that didn't quite close.
Nell and Lizzy eventually stopped going. Meredith tried to go by herself, but Selena was so unwelcoming, so passive-aggressive in her sideways comments about "weight issues," that Meredith realized her sisters were right: they were now unwelcome visitors in their father's home. It wasn't a position she enjoyed or wanted to repeat. So now, she talks to her father on the phone from time to time, and wishes he would be the father he was before Selena came along.
From The Sunshine Sisters published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2017 by Jane Green.