Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
by Rebecca Wells
(Harper, $14.00, PG) ISBN 0-060-92833-6
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If you're in the mood to take a break from romance novels and want to read about a different but equally intense relationship – between a mother and daughter – you should definitely consider the colorful, poignant Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. This touching story left me in tears and with a strong urge to call my mother.

Siddalee Walker has reached her greatest professional triumph and personal crisis at the same time. She has just successfully directed a play that opened at Lincoln Center. Giddy with success, Sidda doesn't notice that the New York Times reporter who is interviewing her is delving deeply into her personal life. When the article is published, Sidda is referred to as "a battered child" and her mother, Vivi, as a "tap-dancing child abuser."

Well! That's enough to make the dramatic and quick-tempered Vivi publicly disown her oldest child. Vivi refuses to speak to Sidda or accept her apologies. Despondent, Sidda postpones her wedding to her wonderfully supportive fiancé, Connor, and retreats to a mountain lodge to think things over. Then she receives a package reluctantly sent by her mother. Inside is a scrapbook of momentos entitled "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." The scrapbook is a key to Sidda's understanding of her mother and the relationships that shaped her life.

Vivi grew up in Central Louisiana during the Depression and World War II. Her mother was jealous of her and her father ignored her. Vivi found tremendous emotional support from her three best friends, Caro, Teensy and Necie. Together, the four girls were known as the "Ya-Ya's" and were always there for each other through true love, tragedy, embarrassment and some rollicking good times.

As Sidda puzzles over the scrapbook, the Ya-Ya's, now senior citizens, do their own reminiscing and share more of their memories with their favorite "Petite Ya-Ya." By the end of the novel, Sidda has learned to accept the light and dark sides of her mother and is ready to face her own uncertain but promising future with Connor.

Part of the novel is hysterically funny, particularly when the Ya-Ya's are young girls. The episodes become more serious and the repercussions are more long-lasting as they get older. There's an awful lot of drinking and smoking, but some beautiful, spiritual passages too. The girls are somewhat narcissistic and spoiled, but there's no doubting their loyalty to each other or their unequivocal willingness to protect their fellow Ya-Ya's and Ya-Ya offspring.

One problem I had with the novel was its unabashed whiteness. When the Ya-Ya's are teenagers, they visit Teensy's Aunt in New Orleans. Vivi is portrayed as a heroine when she lashes out at Teensy's cousin for verbally abusing Vivi's maid. Yet Vivi thinks nothing of ordering the maid around. I know that basically reflects the reality of Vivi's pre-Civil Rights society, but I would have felt better if Sidda, living in the 1990's, had a little color in her world.

Despite that bit of political incorrectness, I found myself deeply involved with Vivi, Sidda and the Ya-Ya's and could identify with the flawed but sympathetic Vivi. If you're not offended by alcohol use and want to go through the years with some seriously wild and vital women, look past that silly cover photo and uncover some Divine Secrets of your own.

--Susan Scribner


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