While My Sister Sleeps
Harper Collins 2009
When a woman in her early thirties, oldest of three siblings and a famous successful runner, has a heart attack that leaves her brain-dead and on life support, her family has to make the painful decision of when to pull the plug. Her mother Kathryn is devastated. She cannot accept the truth of Robin’s condition. Molly, Robin’s little sister has grown up in her shadow. But as the family starts to disintegrate she has to become Robin’s voice and in doing so finds her own. Robin’s father lives for his family, and defers to them rather than voicing his own opinion. The book focuses on the definition of ‘brain-dead’ and the religious and moral issues of the right to life.
Robin Snow is an Olympic hopeful and potential – she is in the prime of her life, running marathons and races, fully fighting fit when she is suddenly struck down by a heart attack, declared brain dead and on life support.
Her family are understandably devastated – even her younger sister Molly who had growing resentments to being Robin’s training assistant. Her mother Kathryn is losing her firstborn child and cannot bring herself to let her go. Her father is in shock and leaves the decision making to his wife. Her brother Chris has marriage problems and a young daughter, and now has to come to terms with this. On top of all that there is the family run business to keep going, Molly’s threatening eviction, an obsessed journalist ex boyfriend of Robin’s to contend with, Kathryn’s mother’s Alzhiemers disease and a few family secrets that soon come to light.
Although the plot of this book has an inevitable outcome, Delinsky introduces new ‘by-lines’ to make the story more interesting and intriguing – Robin’s true feelings about her mother, her sister and her career discovered through her journals, Molly’s relationship with the man who found Robin collapsed, Chris’ marriage problems and lack of confidence, Kathryn and her husband’s painful family secret, Molly’s relationship with her ailing grandmother, Kathryn’s acceptance of her daughter’s death and subsequent wishes. These keep the storyline going along and make the reader want to continue.
Molly is the main focus of the book, how she lived in the shadow of her famous sister, how she quietly excels at her job, how different she is to her sister and how she competes for her mother’s attention knowing she is not the favourite daughter. Through this family crisis Molly finds her voice, finds out just how much her family do love her, particularly her sister, and learns a lot about herself. She becomes Robins ‘voice’ and helps steer her mother to making the right decisions.
The ending felt quick, a bit left up in the air but maybe that shows how involved I got with the family and the story – a compliment to the writing.
While My Sister Sleeps is an emotional book in which the characters learn more about themselves and their own family – constantly asking who am I, what do I really think…..? It is a story about a family coming to terms with one of the worst things that could ever happen to them and again makes the reader ask their own moral questions about life.