ReviewLulu and Merry’s childhood was never ideal, but on the day before Lulu’s tenth birthday their father drives them into a nightmare. He’s always hungered for the love of the girl’s self-obsessed mother; after she throws him out, their troubles turn deadly.
Lulu’s mother warned her to never let him in, but when he shows up, he’s impossible to ignore. He bullies his way past ten-year-old Lulu, who obeys her father’s instructions to open the door, then listens in horror as her parents struggle. She runs for help and discovers upon her return that he’s murdered her mother, stabbed her sister, and tried to kill himself.
For thirty years, the sisters try to make sense of what happened. Their imprisoned father is a specter in both their lives, shadowing every choice they make. Though one spends her life pretending he’s dead, while the other feels compelled to help him, both fear that someday their imprisoned father’s attempts to win parole may meet success.
Wow! I received The Murderer's Daughters to review from St. Martin's Press under the pretence of appealing to young adult readers, though it is technically an adult novel. This is Randy Susan Meyer's debut novel and I was blown away with how rich and beautiful her story was. Based on the phrase "Do the sons bear the sins of the father?", the novel is a wonderful analysis of guilt and how it can affect every part of our lives. Rather than being a story about domestic violence The Murderer's Daughters is about how we are extensions, not products, of our parents yet should not feel owned by their actions.
I absolutely loved The Murderer's Daughters mainly for its character development. Lulu, asked to save her mother from her father, is haunted by the guilt of her mother's death. She removes herself from her father's life in prison and creates an identity separate from her childhood yet never fully escapes her past, struggling to be a good mother to her own children. Always questioning why she was stabbed, Merry becomes her father's keeper in jail and can't escape his presence in her life. Merry becomes shrapnel in the aftershock of the event and can't quite piece herself back together as she grows from a frightened child to a wild teenager and finally a lost adult. I appreciated how flawed Merry, Lulu, Aunt Cilla, and Joey were as characters: rather than being strong, healed, perfect humans Randy Susan Meyers wrote them as the realistic, broken people they would have been.
A discussion question at the back of the book made me reflect on the concept of identity and it's role in this novel. Merry and Lulu never quiet escape their identity as "the murderer's daughters" which is a homage to how single events can leave lasting impacts, yet the problem goes deeper. Lulu especially tries to rid herself of being labelled by becoming as successful, loving mother to cancel out the bad karma from her childhood but her past continues to catch up with her. It raised the question "As humans, are we obligated to reject the role society gives us as an attempt to create our own identity, even though we know we will fail?" and left readers wondering how any of us create a life mirroring our expectations rather than as an extension of our past.
I would recommend The Murderer's Daughters to older teens as the novel does deal with mature content such as sex, drug and alcohol abuse, and domestic violence. If you are a fan of any Alex Award nominees or have never read a crossover title before, you would greatly enjoy this book.
Favourite Quote: "Adults should be able to offer themselves up for adoption. I'd find a family that gathered at every holiday ever invented - quick, get out the Columbus Day tree! - offering ourselves immeasurable occasions to use our in-family jokes and us-only references. A family that celebrated birthdays in some way other than sending homemade birthday cards from prison....Adopting adults should be as desirable as rescuing beautiful little Chinese girls."
Recommended: Breathe My Name (R.A. Nelson), Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult)