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Sisters of Spicefield by Fran Cusworth

Sisters of Spicefield

by Fran Cusworth

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412,546,965 (4.5)None
Jessica and Matt Davidson, professional, middle-class Australians, have four beautiful children; three from IVF. When they donate one leftover embryo, it's a gift of thanks to the world for their luck; an offering to the fates. Seven years after this gift, the Davidsons have lost their youngest child Eeny to a genetic condition, and the family is struggling with this grief. Jessica and Matt's relationship is strained; their relationship with their oldest child is fraught, and beneath these tensions flow the currents of anger and shame connected to Eeny's death. Exploring the big issues - who gets to decide/comment on/directly influence - the parenting and care of children. Can we push aside the tug of a biological bond, or not, can we create a bond where there isn't one? And, ultimately, celebrating family of every kind.… (more)



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Jessica Davidson is stunned when a little girl with the same honey brown skin, dark eyes and heart shaped face she has seen all of her life runs through the school gate and into her mother’s arms. Seven years ago, despite her husband’s objections, Jessica donated an embryo to Carolyn Twelftree and her husband Phillip, and now the result, a little girl named Mia, clings to Carolyn’s legs as Jessica’s own three children clamour around her, vying for attention. Mia is Jessica’s daughter but Jessica is not her mother, and what does that mean for them all?

Sisters of Spicefield is a thought-provoking novel by accomplished author Fran Cusworth, exploring the complex dynamics of family, marriage and parenthood.

The main plot involves Jessica and Matt’s decision to donate one of their remaining five embryos after IVF treatment to an infertile couple. Seven years later, Jessica is confronted with Mia and the family struggle to determine how to relate to the child.

“How was she supposed to feel? What on earth was happening in this world if you could suddenly be introduced to a six-year-old child who was your biology, your blood, the descendant of your ancestors? How were people not meant to care?
How on earth had she ever thought she would not?” p23/24

The situation is further complicated by a number of factors, most significantly the loss of Jessica’s youngest child to a congenital condition and the instability of Mia’s home life. As Cusworth’s characters explore their emotional attachment to the child within the indeterminate boundaries of moral, ethical and legal responsibility the story also brings to light the hidden consequences of assisted fertility and how it challenges our modern definition of family.

A second strand of the narrative involves Abby, Jessica’s twin sister who manages an orphanage in Thailand. The children in Chiang Mai, in contrast to Mia, don’t have any one to love and care for them and Abby is vaguely impatient with her sister’s situation.
Additionally, amongst Jessica’s friends, the issues of adoption, separation and divorce are examined. Cusworth draws out both the similarities and differences between their own experiences of parenthood and the situation Jessica finds herself in.

There is little in the way of resolution to the novel as the relationships between Jessica and her family and Carolyn and Mia will be a matter of continual negotiation over time. While some readers by be frustrated by the open ending I don’t think there is any other realistic direction the author could choose to take.

Cusworth handles the provocative issues in Sisters of Spicefield with keen insight and compassion for their complex emotional nuances. Well written, this novel is thought provoking, topical and engaging. I really enjoyed Sisters of Spicefield and I would recommend it particularly to those interested in modern social issues. ( )
  shelleyraec | Jun 6, 2013 |
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