The Last Carolina Sister has a lot of favorite elements from the start. The animal rescue, a small town, and community are all things I enjoy. The book doesn’t stop there, however. It takes on two damaged characters and gives them another chance at life.
Family is a burden as well as a support for both main characters, their tangled histories having a direct impact on today. Meredith blames herself for how her mother abandoned their family when she was just a kid after she caught her mother in an affair. Things didn’t get better when the local famous artist, and her mother’s lover, names Meredith his daughter in his will along with his legitimate daughter and one other. We learn about this part in discussions and flashbacks because this is the third book in the series, but the consequences are clear. Still, the results are not all negative since Meredith gains two beloved half-sisters. Even that is tainted, though, because her real father and two brothers see her new connections as a betrayal.
If that isn’t enough conflict, Ryan’s father let his sense of inadequacy when compared to Ryan’s mother coming from serious money influence his children. Ryan and his sister grew up ashamed of their mother’s family. His father required them to succeed with no help and kept them distant from that side of the family. Nor has the way people react when they learn Ryan’s connections since he reached adulthood improved the situation. He can never know if someone likes him for himself or for the connections he refuses to use, and so keeps his family a secret.
You’d think with the above the story would have few positive family aspects, but there are many. Meredith’s half-sisters work to break through her lack of self-respect as does Ryan. They dismiss the past and point out all the ways Meredith makes a difference in the lives of folks around Magnolia. Whether it’s making a perfect connection between one of her rescues and a local, supporting those with a dream, or confronting animals abusers, the town of Magnolia knows they can count on her to be ready when needed. They see what she refuses to. Meredith is so focused on proving something only she doubts that she’s blind to the impact she has in so many lives. Nor does the family that raised her stay out of the picture. There’s growth on all sides.
We don’t see as much of Ryan’s family, but his connection with his sister, as complicated as that is, proves he is not as isolated as he believes. He needs to push aside some of those negative childhood lessons before he’s ready to accept holding himself separate is not what he wants. He’s a successful emergency room doctor, known in the medical community for his dedication, but few know the attraction is in little opportunity to get to know his patients.
Connection, whether with furry friends or humans, is a big theme in this book. Meredith buries her negative self-perception when she helps animals and allows herself to dream big enough to attract serious grant money. Ryan finds the peace he’s searching for at her shelter after being wounded and losing a friend when a gunman opened fire in his emergency room. He takes a while to realize Meredith is the cause as much as the meditative act of cleaning litter boxes.
A high school date rape in Meredith’s past makes her as reluctant to connect with men as Ryan is with anyone. Their relationship turns physical (open-door but low detail) long before they admit to needing more. They help each other heal, unable to believe they have the right to something permanent until it’s almost too late. The development of their relationship, and the healing their growth requires, happens right on the page. I loved how we see each step along with how their attempts to protect themselves keep getting in the way.
I came to love many people in Magnolia. Even those who appear only for a moment have personalities, while the story is grounded in our world through in-context cultural references. I enjoyed the interactions with various animals as well. The animals, largely goats and dogs, are critical to the plot as is Meredith’s Furever Friends Rescue.
There’s a lot going on. I’ve given you a glimpse of the book largely through backstory and the early chapters. The end comes a little abruptly, leaving me wanting to know more about the town and its people, but Ryan and Meredith overcome their obstacles in the best way possible. They earn their happily ever after, and we get to see it happen.
I’m thinking about finding the earlier two books as well as intrigued by the teaser chapters at the end of this book for the next Magnolia story. That, more than anything else, is a sign of how I’ve bought into the world of Magnolia and its people. I didn’t want to leave. It’s well worth the time spent.
P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in hopes of an honest review.