Isabelle Bonnarito has been scarred by her childhood. Her father left her family when she was just a girl, so her mother had to do her best to raise Isabelle, her sisters, Cecelia and Janie, and her special-needs brother, Henry. Her mother resorted to some desperate measures to keep her children clothed and fed, suffering bouts of depression so severe that Isabelle had to keep the family running while her mother took to her bed for weeks.
Isabelle thinks she has overcome her traumatic childhood, but she compensates by sleeping with an indiscriminate number of men When her harsh, unrelentingly critical mother discovers she has a heart problem, Isabelle and her sisters are forced to return to their hometown and confront the demons they left behind.
Henry's Sisters is a beautiful book about the importance of love and family. The Bonnarito clanís experiences are simply horrible - every time the reader thinks their past canít get any worse, something comes to light to change the readerís opinion. All three girls are damaged. Isabelle sleeps with any man who crosses her path, but only once. Since her father left, she canít bring herself to trust a man any more than that. Cecelia eats for comfort, to the point that she is 300 pounds and has medical issues because of her weight. Janie certainly has obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The beauty of Henry's Sisters, though, comes from Henry himself, a special-needs man who loves everyone unconditionally. Isabelle often says that Henry is her one constant in life, the one person who has loved her no matter what. Author Cathy Lamb does an incredible job showing the reader how normal Henry is, but at the same time, how extraordinarily much he loves and gives to others. He is really the bright spot in this book.
Henry's Sisters is also definitely a difficult novel. These children undergo some heartwrenching experiences that leave the reader at a loss for words. More than once I found myself tearing up until the end, when I just let the tears run. Lamb isnít a manipulative author; the emotions are genuine, but this is a very difficult book. Be prepared for the difficulties within its pages because they are not easy to read about.
That said, because of Henry, this book has hope and happiness at its core. Every time the narrative becomes almost too difficult to bear, Henryís shining face and optimism bring the novel back to its central tenet, back to what is important: love. Itís an incredible message, and Lamb delivers it like an expert.
Though Henry's Sisters is painful to read at times, it is absolutely worth it. The character development in this novel is rewarding; at the beginning, Isabelle is a broken woman, though she wonít even admit that to herself. As the novel progresses and she comes to terms with what happened to her and experiences new atrocities, she makes serious realizations about herself that make her a more complete person by novelís end.