Review: The Clover Girls by Viola Shipman

Review: The Clover Girls by Viola ShipmanThe Clover Girls by Viola Shipman
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, women's fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Graydon House on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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"Like a true friendship, The Clover Girls is a novel you will forever savor and treasure." —Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author
Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where over four summers they were the Clover Girls—inseparable for those magical few weeks of freedom—until the last summer that pulled them apart. Now approaching middle age, the women are facing challenges they never imagined as teens, struggles with their marriages, their children, their careers, and wondering who it is they see when they look in the mirror.
Then Liz, V and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily with devastating news. She implores the girls who were once her best friends to reunite at Camp Birchwood one last time, to spend a week together revisiting the dreams they’d put aside and repair the relationships they’d allowed to sour. But the women are not the same idealistic, confident girls who once ruled Camp Birchwood, and perhaps some friendships aren’t meant to last forever…
Bestselling author Viola Shipman is at her absolute best with The Clover Girls. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will love its powerful, redemptive nature and the empowering message at its heart.

My Review:

Actual adulting is very different from what we imagined life would be like when we were kids. Even more different than real life was from summer camp life, back in that long ago day.

Or at least that’s true for the Clover Girls of Camp Birchwood as they look back on those four golden summers more than 30 years ago, back when they were certain they were going to be best friends 4-EVER, just like their names. Back when they were 15 instead of 50. Before they broke their friendship and went their separate ways.

Back when they were all full of life and hope and dreams. Back when they were all alive.

Because none of those things are true any longer. Veronica, once a supermodel, has faded into the background of her marriage and her life. Liz is caught in the mid-life sandwich, divorced, taking care of her dying mother and coming to the harsh realization that her grown up children are selfish, self-centered and self-absorbed, and that Liz is going to be all alone in the world when her mother dies. Rachel is possibly the most hated woman in America, a former actress and conservative political handler and TV personality who lives out of a suitcase and goes on TV to spin the deeds of vile politicians into soundbites that can be all-too-easily swallowed by people looking for demons to embrace.

Emma is dead. But before she died she returned alone, to Camp Birchwood, one last time, to make the abandoned campground ready for one final visit from the Clover Girls. Emma hopes that a return to the place where they were free to be their best and most authentic selves will give the friends she loved so much one last chance to fix what they broke between them.

And what they broke inside themselves.

Escape Rating A-: The Clover Girls reads like “sad fluff”, but it’s the fluffiest, tastiest marshmallow fluff that ever fluffed, lightly toasted and nestled lovingly between two graham crackers and just the right amount of chocolate. In other words, it may be sad fluff, but it’s the quintessential s’more of sad fluff, just as messy, gooey and tasty as the s’mores we ate at summer camp way back when.

And if my read of it is any indication, it’s clear that you can take the girl out of summer camp, time can put the entire experience (far) into the rearview mirror, but you can’t really take the girl out of the woman or the s’mores out of the girl.

There is a LOT of sad in this story – and not just because Emma is dead from the beginning. But it’s a weep in the middle rather than a cry at the end kind of story. All of the remaining Clover Girls have a lot to get over, a lot to forgive each other for and an equal amount of crap to forgive themselves for, but the story ends with a smile and twinkle in its eye.

Along the way, there’s a lot about the boxes that women get shoehorned into from a very young age, and how there’s even less time than there was when the Clover Girls were girls for girls to just have a chance to be and to find out who they can be when there’s less pressure to fit into the molds that society and their parents have already laid out for them.

One thing I was grateful for is that there aren’t a ton of flashbacks. There’s just enough for the reader to understand what went right and wrong back then that led them to the lives they have now, without spending half the book reliving the past.

It’s the present that’s important. Acknowledging the past is necessary in order for them each to move forward, but rehashing the past in all of its gory detail won’t help them deal with the issues they have in the present. And I’ll admit that I wouldn’t have liked the story half as much if that was the way it had been written.

Something else that I liked about this story was the way that the author dealt with the recent past and the political strife that has occurred in the U.S. over the past few years. Not just the conflict between political parties but divisions between family members. The remaining Clover Girls seemed to run the political gamut from liberal to conservative, but with the exception of Rachel it was conservative in the way that anyone who lived through the Reagan Era would think of conservative rather than the pure factionalism that’s occurring now. I found that acknowledgement to be both real and tastefully done, although I’m sure that others’ reading mileage will vary.

There turned out to be much more to this story than I expected on any number of fronts, all of them thought provoking and in the end rather joyful. And that sad fluff was surprisingly tasty as well as nostalgic. All in all, an absolutely lovely read.

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