REVIEW: The Flower Sisters by Michelle Collins Anderson

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Drawing on the little-known true story of one tragic night at an Ozarks dance hall in the author’s Missouri hometown, this beautifully written, endearingly nostalgic novel picks up 50 years later for a folksy, character-driven portrayal of small-town life, split second decisions, and the ways family secrets reverberate through generations.

Daisy Flowers is fifteen in 1978 when her free-spirited mother dumps her in Possum Flats, Missouri. It’s a town that sounds like roadkill and, in Daisy’s eyes, is every bit as dead. Sentenced to spend the summer living with her grandmother, the wry and irreverent town mortician, Daisy draws the line at working for the family business, Flowers Funeral Home. Instead, she maneuvers her way into an internship at the local newspaper where, sorting through the basement archives, she learns of a mysterious tragedy from fifty years earlier…

On a sweltering, terrible night in 1928, an explosion at the local dance hall left dozens of young people dead, shocking and scarring a town that still doesn’t know how or why it happened. Listed among the victims is a name that’s surprisingly familiar to Daisy, revealing an irresistible family connection to this long-ago accident.

Obsessed with investigating the horrors and heroes of that night, Daisy soon discovers Possum Flats holds a multitude of secrets for a small town. And hardly anyone who remembers the tragedy is happy to have some teenaged hippie asking questions about it – not the fire-and-brimstone preacher who found his calling that tragic night; not the fed-up police chief; not the mayor’s widow or his mistress; not even Daisy’s own grandmother, a woman who’s never been afraid to raise eyebrows in the past, whether it’s for something she’s worn, sworn, or done for a living.

Some secrets are guarded by the living, while others are kept by the dead, but as buried truths gradually come into the light, they’ll force a reckoning at last.

CW – Violent death depicted on page, the aftermath of identifying remains is discussed – both these sections get graphic. Death of an infant. 

Dear Michelle Collins Anderson,

Lately I’ve been in the mood for historical fiction and when I saw this cover I fell in love with it. That plus a story set in 1978 (which I remember quite well, thank you very much) closed the deal. 

In 1928 most of the young people in the small town of Possum Flats, Missouri are at the upstairs dance hall late in the evening when suddenly it explodes in heat and flame. By reason and chance of where they are some are spared while others die horrible deaths. Stunned, the town rushes in to try to save the living then gather the dead. 

Almost fifty years later, young fifteen year old Daisy Flowers is dropped off at her grandmother’s house in some podunk town in Missouri after which her peripatetic mother leaves for California along with her latest lover. Daisy and Rose awkwardly work out how they’re going to live together until Lettie sends for her daughter. As Rose now runs the town’s funeral home and lives above it, Daisy is desperate to get out. When Rose takes Daisy along with her to the local paper to hand in an obituary (for the beloved town mayor who died in flagrante delicto with a woman who was not his wife), Daisy is fascinated by journalism and determined to get a job there. 

Some fast talking gets the interest of the editor who offers her a summer internship but writing obits (though she’s good at it) bores Daisy who jumps at Fence McMillan’s offer to dig through old newspapers and write a history piece. She latches onto the idea of revisiting the 1928 explosion and telling the story via interviews with survivors. Stunned at the negative reception she gets from various townspeople, Daisy nonetheless forges ahead. But when the last of her four part series has been published, old and well hidden secrets will be unearthed and lives will be changed forever. 

I loved these characters. None of them are perfect. Rather they are flawed in great and small ways that make them come alive. Daisy is intelligent and stubborn, things that Rose immediately remembers in her daughter Lettie who fought against the restrictions on females in the 1940s and finally fled town to escape. Rose is meticulous about her job and proud of the service she supplies but lived a painful life with her husband and in-laws who disliked her. Rose also still mourns her twin sister who died in 1928. 

One of the local pastors was a party boy until that night after which he devoted his life to God, something he never thought or planned to do after a horrible childhood. The stubborn sheriff has devoted his life to the town and its people. He might take an afternoon nap in the office every day but he’ll never leave a job undone. The other reporters take Daisy under their wing and try to give her good advice and photography lessons but warn her to tread lightly as despite the passage of fifty years, the town is still sensitive about its losses. Meanwhile Daisy keeps sending letters to her mother even though she’s yet to hear back from Lettie. 

I did guess a few of the secrets and who was responsible for them. Clues are given and if readers pay attention, not much will be a surprise. But the enjoyment is in watching the various characters interacting, remembering, and coming to terms with events past and present. There is an “epilogue” of sorts which shows what will happen to some characters and allows forgiveness for others which I liked but might be too sappy for some. I’m still debating some of the outcomes. This is not a light and fluffy book though parts are truly funny. I enjoyed watching Rose and Daisy, who are both strong women, as well as revisiting the late 1970s but be warned that there are graphic scenes in the book. B


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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 25 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there’s no TSTL characters and is currently reading more fantasy and SciFi.

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