Thursday, February 1, 2018

Book Review: 'Just Like the Brontë Sisters' by Laurel Osterkamp

Minnesota author Laurel Osterkamp teaches English and Creative Writing in Minneapolis and has written a number of successful novels – ‘The Standout’, ‘The Holdout’, ‘The Next Breath’, ‘November Surprise’, ’Blue State’, and ‘American Angst’ and the award-winning ‘Following My Toes’ and ‘Starring in the Movie of My Life’. Her passion for literature and the art of communicative writing are evident in this new novel ‘Just Like the Brontë Sisters.’

Creating a parody or strong reference or map following of famous Victorian novelists and placing that in contemporary times can be a touch and go -or in Laurel’s case, a ‘touch and glow’ – situation. She weaves a very contemporary story of sisters and their loves and tragedies and makes the novel reflect the characters of Wuthering Heights et al and makes it work splendidly.

The writing style follows an intimate pattern as needed – ‘Jo Beth couldn’t get the look on Skylar’s face out of her head. She’d rolled her eyes, puckered her lips, and scrunched her nose, like it was painful not to speak, not to say what she really thought: that Jo Beth was irresponsible, that even though Skylar was the younger sister, she was wiser and way more responsible. Skylar seemed to think it had become her duty to scold Jo Beth. Still, Skylar had remained silent and that was a silver lining, because it meant Jo Beth could stay silent too. It’s better not to yell if you can help it. Jo Beth yelled a lot. Many people called her a “passionate person,” which was just a nice way of saying she had a wicked temper. So what if she felt things deeply? Life was for the living, and Jo Beth prided herself on her passions, for things like adrenaline rushes, well-timed naps, and winning every single one of her ski meets. Skiing, preferably with Skylar, was her number one passion. But in the winter of her sophomore year, Jo Beth developed a brand-new passion. What made this passion special, made it different, was that it was for a guy. Things had started innocently enough, through the time-tested bandwagon effect. The way all the ski team girls were going on about the new coach, you’d think he was God’s gift, capable of anything, like he knew how to execute the perfect kiss without slobber but with tongue, or he might be able to halt global-warming during his downtime, in between workout sessions, while he drank his protein shake. They spoke his name breathlessly, but in all caps: DALLAS.’

But the story is long and complex (in a fine way) and can be reduced in the synopsis – ‘Sisters Skylar and Jo Beth adore skiing and they virtually share the same soul. After an accident, Jo Beth flees to Brazil, leaving Skylar behind in Colorado to obsessively read the Brontë sisters. While abroad, Jo Beth meets Mitch and her life takes some unexpected turns, until tragedy leads free-spirited Mitch right into Skylar's empty arms. With their Heathcliff/Catherine romance in full swing, Skylar wants to trust Mitch, but did he harm her sister? Loving Mitch could make Skylar lose everything. ‘Just Like The Brontë Sisters’ is an unconventional romantic page-turner inspired by Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel, full of magical realism, literary references, a ghost, and some healthy doses of suspense.’

And Laurel Osterkamp adds another remarkable feather to her cap and career as a solid author. Thoroughly entertaining. Grady Harp, November 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.