The Sunshine Girls by Molly Fader
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781335453488
Trade paperback, 368 pages, $17.99
As Molly Fader's fascinating character study The Sunshine Girls opens, people in Greenboro, Iowa are gathering for the funeral of BettyKay Beecher, a highly respected nurse who gave so much of her time and talents to her small town.
BettyKay's older daughter Clara has returned home for the funeral. Clara is a successful corporate lawyer in Chicago, where she lives with her wife Vicki. Things are strained back home as Vicki wants to start a family, but Clara is reluctant.
Clara's younger sister Abby is married with two young children. While Clara hasn't been home much, Abby has spent much of her time with her mother following the death of BettyKay's husband, their father, three years ago. Clara tells Abby that she is leaving directly after the funeral, and Abby is dismayed that Clara is leaving Abby alone to clean out their mother's home.
When a stunning woman saunters into the funeral home, everyone is shocked to see that it its Kitty Deveraux, a famous Hollywood actress, who has walked up and placed a pink button in the coffin. Why is Kitty Deveraux at their mother's funeral? Does it have anything to do with the memoir their mother wrote about her time as a nurse in Vietnam during the war?
Clara and Abby invite Kitty back to their mother's home and once there, Kitty tells the women that she knew their mother when they were young nursing students and roommates in nursing school in Iowa in the 1960s. Along with Jenny, a brilliant woman and one of the only Black women in their nursing school, they were inseparable.
I truly loved the story of BettyKay, Jenny, and Kitty in nursing school. This unlikely trio of women became lifelong friends, supporting each other through good times and bad. We see how difficult the life of a young nursing student was, and how their strong friendship sustained them.
Through their discussions with Kitty, they discover things about their mother that they never knew, things that Aunt Jenny never told them. Jenny tells them to beware of Kitty and her stories, but Kitty is determined to tell all of the secrets she has kept about her and BettyKay's lives.
Molly Fader has said that her own mother's stories about nursing school in Iowa in the 1960s inspired this wonderfully moving story, and you can feel that love in the book. The characters feel so real, and their friendship is deeply meaningful. It is a love letter to strong women and how they have to overcome the things that happen to them along the way.
I did wish there was more of BettyKay and Jenny's lives in Vietnam, I feel like that could be another equally interesting book. As a fan of the the 1980s-1990s show China Beach, I found myself wanting to know more about that time in their lives. Fans of The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hugo will want to read this one too.
I loved The Sunshine Girls, and I read it in one sitting not wanting the story of these strong women and their deep friendship to end. I give it my highest recommendation.
Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Fall 2022 Women's Fiction Blog Tour.