The Plot: Victorian London. Lucy Sexton is thirteen when she opens the door and sees her mother…. No. Not her mother, Aliese Sexton; it is her mother’s identical twin sister, Helen. A twin no one knew about. Aliese and Helen were separated at birth, one raised by a wealthy couple, the other sent to the workhouse. Helen has tracked down Aliese, to just once look into the face of her twin.
Helen says she wants to walk away; but instead, Aliese and her husband, Frederick, take Helen in and insist she stay. Clothes are bought, lessons are given, until Helen is polished and primped and deemed satisfactory enough to meet society.
A year after Lucy opens the door to Helen, the happy family reunion takes a horrifying turn. Lucy opens another door, this time to a blood spattered room. One woman is dead; one woman survives. The secrets have only just begun.
The Good: Oh. My. Goodness. What is not to love? Identical twins separated at birth! Jealousy! Murder! Mistaken identity! Love! Romance! Secrets that have secrets! Weddings! Funerals! Unexpected deaths! Even a secret tunnel!
The Twin’s Daughter spans five years, as Lucy grows from a child who worships her young, beautiful, caring mother to a teenager who finds love with the boy next door. Along the way, she realizes truths about those she loves: her mother, her father, Aunt Helen. Lucy has to reconcile the reality of people versus her childhood memories and impressions. Sometimes, some things, some crimes, cannot be forgiven.
Do Aliese, Frederick, and Helen really change? Or is it that as Lucy grows she realizes that Aliese is more than the perfect mother, Frederick more than the literary and charming father, Helen more than the neglected twin with a hard life? Is The Twin’s Daughter a case of a child’s evolving point of view, as she matures and discovers the world is a bigger and more dangerous world than she thought? And people more complex?
Or is it something more than that? Did the revelation of Aliese’s true birth and the discovery of Helen free Aliese, Frederick, and Helen to be different people? Is Lucy witnessing what happens when people are freed from secrets, freed from who they think they are and given the chance to be something new? Someone new?
On the one hand, I don’t want to give too much of the plot away. On the other hand, c’mon: identical twins plus murder equals “who lives? And can we believe it?” This mystery (both who done it and who lived) isn’t quickly resolved; the murder itself happens half way through the book, and the latter half of the book covers four years until all is revealed. Four years, for Lucy to wonder which twin survived and what it means; why the murder happened; why one lived. And I say “all” but…no. All is not revealed. Some things, some knowledge, is never revealed.
What else? Kit! Kit, the boy next door, who grows up to be Lucy’s soulmate. The Twin’s Daughter is also a romance, of the protected Lucy falling hard for Kit, while Kit discovers that his dreams of being a soldier and the reality of being a soldier are two different things. Lucy and Kit’s romance develops both in person and in letters, first while Kit is sick with typhoid, later when Kit is away being a soldier.
Let me repeat: identical twin sisters. Murder. Mistaken identity. Secret tunnel. OF COURSE it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2010.