Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
By Rebecca Wells
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780060173289, 368pp.)
Publication Date: May 1996
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Now, four years after her award-winning, underground bestseller, Little Altars Everywhere, praised by Pat Conroy as "a splendid first novel," Rebecca Wells returns with a masterfully written novel that brims with insight, humor and compassion.
When Vivi and Siddalee Walker, an unforgettable mother-daughter team, get into a savage fight over a New York Times article that refers to Vivi as a "tap-dancing child abuser," the fallout is felt from Louisiana to New York to Seattle. Siddalee, a successful theater director with a huge hit on her hands, panics and postpones her upcoming wedding to her lover and friend, Connor McGill. Vivi's intrepid gang of lifelong girlfriends, the Ya-Yas, sashay in and conspire to bring everyone back together.
In 1932, Vivi and the Ya-Yas were disqualified from a Shirley Temple Look-Alike Contest for unladylike behavior. Sixty years later, they're "bucking seventy" and still making waves. They persuade Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of girlhood mementos titled "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood."
With the scrapbook in hand, Sidda retreats to a cabin on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, tormented by fear and uncertainty about the future, and intent on discovering the key to the tangle of anger and tenderness she feels toward her mother. But Vivi's album reveals more questions than answers and leads Sidda to encounter the legacy of imperfect love and the unknowable mystery of life.
With passion and a rare gift for language, Rebecca Wells moves from present to past, unraveling Vivi's life, her enduring friendships with the Ya-Yas and the reverberations of Siddalee. The collective power of the Ya-Yas, each of them totally individual and authentic, permeates this story of a tribe of Louisiana wild women who are impossible to tame.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood calls to mind The Joy Luck Club in its exploration of the relationships between mothers and daughters; in its unearthing of family secrets, it evokes The Prince of Tides. Ultimately, in its aching longing, in its deep humor, in its heartbreaking fun and in its joy and forgiveness, Rebecca Wells has created a big, original, incandescent novel whose Louisiana landscape and indelible characters radiate with grace, wit and love.
When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she's directed, her mother gets described as a "tap-dancing child abuser." Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda. Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." As Sidda struggles to analyze her mother, she comes face to face with the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood may call to mind Prince of Tides in its unearthing of family darkness; in its unforgettable heroines and irrepressible humor and female loyalty, it echoes Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Writer, actor, and playwright Rebecca Wells is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Ya-Yas in Bloom, Little Altars Everywhere, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which was made into a feature film. A native of Louisiana, she now lives on an island in the Pacific Northwest.