Reviewed by Rachel Mann

Objectively, I think The Gilly Salt Sisters, by Tiffany Baker, is interesting: the plot is well thought-out, the characters well-drawn, and events have that inevitable, inexorable feel that makes you think the story couldn’t have gone any other way. It takes a while to get going, though, starting out by giving us three main female characters and their back-stories. About 100 pages in, we stumble (along with the characters) into a mystery that makes all of them more interesting. There’s Jo, who runs the Gilly salt farm and, after becoming badly burned, has transformed into even more of a recluse than she was before. There’s Claire, Jo’s younger sister, who’s remained beautiful on the outside but become completely cold inside. And there’s Dee, the young outsider who never quite manages to fit in.

Linking all these women is Whit: Claire’s husband, Jo’s former friend, and Dee’s boyfriend… and a nasty piece of work. You don’t want to meet this guy in a dark alley. Rounding out the cast of characters is a trio of poor parents: Whit’s mother, Jo and Claire’s mother, and Dee’s father. Each of them seems more cruel than loving; each of their children seems scarred for life.

Romantic relationships are as bad as parental ones, it seems; in addition to suffering through a marriage with Whit, Claire is heartbroken because her first boyfriend and true love, Ethan, abandoned her to join the priesthood. Instead, the best relationship you can hope for is one between the sisters. Even then, there’s no guarantee your sister will keep you safe. Jo might have saved Claire from a fire, but Claire’s the one who started it in the first place. And when Jo and Claire take Dee in, to help a new sister out when she runs into trouble, you soon start questioning exactly what kind of help they’re going to give.

Overall, I’m not sure what to make of The Gilly Salt Sisters. There’s mystery and prophecy, love and death, and plenty of family conflict. Ultimately, though, this book just wasn’t for me. I’m not sure why—sometimes you just can’t connect with a book, without being able to explain exactly why. Maybe it’s because the book didn’t satisfy, for me, the escapist element I usually look for in fiction. I like books that encourage you to sink into the characters’ skin, and live their stories along with them. But these characters have hard lives—and, like real people, can be quite hard to empathize with. Maybe, in the end, these lives were just too hard for me.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Rachel, who has a Ph.D. in English, is a freelance writer/editor and a voracious reader. You can talk to her about books at http://twitter.com/writehandmann.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by the Grand Central Publishing. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.