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Natalie Standiford: Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

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Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters

By Natalie Standiford

Scholastic Press, Softcover

The Sweet Valley High twins Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield wouldn’t survive a day in Baltimore, no doubt, but not for the reasons you might suspect. No, the Wakefields just don’t hold the social cred of, say, their heiress friend Lila Fowler—or the Sullivan sisters of Natalie Standiford’s new young adult novel, Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters. If that comparison to the series that started in 1983 feels dated, instead think Gossip Girl without the fashion.

And like television’s gossiping girls, the Sullivan sisters attend a private girls’ school—in this case St. Margaret’s Preparatory School—and deal in family names. Norrie, 17, 16-year-old Jane, and 15-year-old Sassy live in one of those huge houses in the tony Guilford neighborhood. Their parents Ginger and Daddy-o also have three boys—St. John, Sully, and Takey (no, seriously)—but everyone has decided that it’s one of the sisters that has offended their grandmother Almighty Lou, of the Gilded Elms in Sherwood Gardens, to the will-changing point of disowning the whole lot of them.

Thus the three “confessions” that comprise the novel. And like the youthful penance coerced out of the average Catholic kid, these girls didn’t do anything more scandalous than the recommended readership of ages 12 and up can handle. But it’s fun to ride around Charles Village and Fells Point with Norrie and the cute grad student she meets in a speed-reading night class at Hopkins, and when Jane starts a web site called myevilfamily.com (real! check it out), you sorta envy her. Maybe your family wasn’t built on the tobacco and stout trade back when Baltimore was all port and crops, but most teenagers need to vent.

Accident-prone Sassy may be the most complicated sister. After getting hit by a car and walking into a hole on a construction site, she feels sort of invincible, asking herself, Would I risk my life to help someone? When she volunteers to tutor at the Fayette Street Learning Center, her friend calls it “some seedy place near the bus station, with fluorescent lighting and dirty bathrooms,” broadcasting these characters’ and their story’s elitism. But Sassy has the right idea when she says, “I don’t want to waste my life as a rich, spoiled girl.”

Yes, there’s a boy named Brooks Overbeck from an equally old Baltimore monied family and a coming out dance called a cotillion, but as long as the Sullivan girls stay hip to their privileged existence, it’s a rich yet harmless teenage romp with our city in the background.

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