‘The Good Daughters’ by Joyce Maynard

In her new book, “The Good Daughters,” author Joyce Maynard tells the story of two girls who don’t seem to fit in with their families. One artistic and dreamy, the other solid as the earth — but in true Maynard fashion, the tale contains an element of suspense that will lead to a surprising development at the end and is guaranteed to keep readers enthralled and guessing.

Two baby girls are born at the height of strawberry season on July 4, 1950, in the same little hospital in New Hampshire. Dubbed “birthday sisters” by one of their mothers, Ruth Plank and Dana Dickerson’s futures would be forever intertwined as their families dance in and out of each other’s lives.

Ruth Plank is the youngest of five daughters born to farmer Edwin Plank and his wife, Connie. While the other girls are content to learn how to become good farm wives, Ruth always has her head in the clouds, always with a pencil or crayon in hand, sketching life as she sees it. Edwin calls Ruth his “hurricane baby” since she was conceived during a wild and stormy night. Ruth loves her father dearly but has a hard time connecting with her mother, who has an almost obsessive interest in the Dickerson family and their daughter Dana.

Dana Dickerson’s life is far different from Ruth’s normal one, with a father who is always looking for the next “sure” thing in moneymaking schemes, a mother who is wrapped up in her artwork, and a brother, Roy, who checks out whenever trouble loams. Dana grows up moving from town to town with her dysfunctional family. A highlight of her life each year is when the family stops by the Plank Farms roadside stand, usually during strawberry season, and Dana has a chance to walk the fields with Edwin and learns to love the land as much as he does.

All through their lives, Ruth and Dana struggle to understand who they are, and as they get older, family secrets surface — a relief for one, a shock for the other, but a turning point for both that will mark their lives forever.

Maynard steps back and allows her characters to tell the story of “The Good Daughters.” In alternating chapters the voices of Ruth and Dana are employed to create this mesmerizing tale of secrets and self-discovery. Maynard uses the comparison of the girls’ lives to the “good daughters” (the strongest offshoots from the “mother” plant) of the strawberry plants that Edwin Plank so tenderly tends, and by mixing in the earthiness of farm life with the artistic side that influences both families, she offers a fascinating account that will stay with the reader long after the book has been put down.

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