When Katie Greene is woken in the night, she is convinced her sister Mia has just got the time difference wrong. Six months earlier, Mia had announced she was off travelling, taking her best friend Finn with her. But it is not Mia on the phone; it is the police at her doorstep. Mia is dead. Suspected suicide. Katie refuses to believe that her vivacious, impulsive and undoubtedly alive sister would take her own life. In her belongings is a travel journal. Katie makes the decision to follow her Mia’s footsteps, saving each entry to read in the location it was written. This is her last lifeline to her and her last chance to find out what really happened in Bali. A place Mia was never meant to be.

“Me and my sister used to do it when we were younger – just float and listen to the sea.” But that had been years ago, before Katie had become afriad of the sea, before they had drifted apart. Mia missed the summer afternoons they used to spend at the beach dive-bombing from the rocks or searching the shoreline for shells. The Sea Sisters, they had been nicknamed as children.

I get the feeling Lucy Clarke wanted to write about her travels and her love of the sea and built up the story around that. The first half of the story has the feeling of travel writing but without the informal quality of a first person narrator retelling their experiences. Saying that, there are some wonderful descriptions of the sea. Mia’s travels kept to the shoreline, echoing her childhood in Cornwall and bridging the past to the present. Both sisters fondly remember growing up together on the beaches of home, only growing up removed them both from their love and into the big city. Mia’s travels seem to be trying to recapture the times when she was happy and carefree.

I took an instant dislike to Katie’s fiancé, Ed. Perhaps this is what made me struggle to get into the book until half-way, when something is revealed that backs up his standoffishness. He wants Katie to be her bland, safe self. The Katie that doesn’t inspire empathy as you read. But Katie does start to transform as she follows in her sister’s footsteps.

It’s Mia’s story that really grabbed me, around the point she meets Noah, a surfer who instantly captures her attention. I did feel sorry for Finn, a loyal and lifelong friend to both women. This marks Mia’s spiralling emotions, ups and downs, and finally I cared about what really happened to her. By the end, my eyes were tearing up and I was genuinely moved by her final moments.

As she listened to the fierce drumming of his heart, she realized that they were no longer hugging: she was holding on.

Whilst the main theme of the book deals with the turbulent relationships of two sisters who both love and hate each other at points in their lives, I liked the way she wrote about guilt. Katie is fortunate to have a journal to tell her what happened but after a suicide, those closest to the victim will constantly be picking at their actions. Is there something they did that tipped them over the edge? It’s so easy for every individual to blame themselves and sometimes sharing those fears is the best way to realise you can’t lay the blame on one single thing.

The Sea Sisters, published by HarperCollins, is Lucy Clarke’s debut novel and is now available in paperback and ebook formats (the Kindle edition is currently only £2.99). Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ Reading in the Sunshine

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.