A Soft Place to Land
By Susan Rebecca White
Touchstone April 2010
From my shelves
Ruthie and Julia are half-sisters, but closer than most siblings. Their love is strengthened by the intense bond of their parents, Naomi and Phil. But when their parents die in a plane crash, the girls are devastated to discover that their parent’s will dictates that they be split up. Julia is sent to live with her father and stepmother and Ruthie lives with her aunt and uncle. A Soft Place to Land follows the sisters through the next twenty years as their lives continue to impact each other, even when they are miles apart.
So many modern novels seem to encompass the time between the 1990s and the late 2000s. This time period is ripe with many events that were life-changing for the people who experienced them. In this novel, because Ruthie and Julia lost their parents to a plane crash, the focus is on other plane accidents. Ms. White weaves the lives of the girls into the tragedy of 9/11 and the heroic efforts of Captain Sullenberger, who got his plane full of passengers to safety. Unfortunately, it comes across as a bit obvious when every event with a plane is important for the characters in this book. Instead of being clever, it becomes obnoxious.
The relationship between the two sisters is well-written. In the beginning of the novel, Ruthie has a hard time tracking down her rebellious older sister. But when Julia finally gets the message that all is not well and her little sister needs her, she is there at her side in moments. Like any sibling relationship, they have their ups and downs. They fight, they make up, they need each other at certain times, and they can’t escape the connection that they have with each other.
But while the relationship may be clear, the sisters themselves are often not. White gives us a few chapters with the sisters and then jumps ahead in time. She does this multiple times in the book. By the time you feel you are beginning to understand who the girls are at this time in their lives, they have aged and changed again. It is difficult for the reader to relate to Julia, because we only see her through the eyes of her sister. However, the frequent changes in time make it difficult to really care for Ruthie, either.
A Soft Place to Land is a good book that takes an honest look at the bond between sisters and the ways that children and adults view their parents. But its frequent change of time and place coupled with the author's choice to make every obvious connection prevents it from being a great one.