The Story Sisters: A Novel

by Alice Hoffman

Hardcover, 2009

Call number




Crown (2009), Edition: First Edition, 336 pages


Elv, Claire, and Meg are the Story Sisters, and each has a fate she must meet alone. One on a country road, one in the streets of Paris, and one in the corridors of her own imagination. At once a coming-of-age tale, a family saga, and a love story of erotic longing.

Media reviews

In Alice Hoffman’s new novel, three long-haired sisters are stolen from their “faerie” family by mortals, stripped of their magic and given a false name. I could be wrong about that. That could be just a story the eldest sister tells her siblings...The last act grows a bit histrionic and
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narrative strands are over-tangled, then too neatly tied up, but Hoffman’s writing is so lovely and her female characters so appealing that it almost doesn’t matter. In the end, “The Story Sisters,” for all its magic realism, is about a family navigating through motherhood, sisterhood, daughterhood. It’s “Little Women” on mushrooms.
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1 more
It's a rare year that doesn't bring a novel from Alice Hoffman, and those who follow this maddeningly uneven writer have learned to cast a wary eye on each new offering....The Story Sisters," actually, is In-Between Alice: excessive and over-determined but ultimately so moving that it overwhelms
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these faults.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member bremmd
This was not my favorite Alice Hoffman book. The last I read I think was the "Ice Queen" and I did enjoy that one, mostly. The last couple of books I've read by her have been darker than the earlier books.

This one was especially dark and a little depressing, actually a lot depressing. It kept
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coming at me like a one, two punch. The characters were not always very likable.

All that being said, I'm glad I stuck with it. The ending was satisfying and the charact...more This was not my favorite Alice Hoffman book. The last I read I think was the "Ice Queen" and I did enjoy that one, mostly. The last couple of books I've read by her have been darker than the earlier books.

This one was especially dark and a little depressing, actually a lot depressing. It kept coming at me like a one, two punch. The characters were not always very likable.

All that being said, I'm glad I stuck with it. The ending was satisfying and the characters rebounded through all the horrors their lives had seen to become full and content people.

I do miss the lighter Hoffman books and while all of her novels tend to deal with heavy emotional and life issues, the last few have been particularly heavy. But again, I have to remind myself that she always pulls off, not quite a happily every after ending but more of a real life happy ending.
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LibraryThing member sdunford
It is easiest to hurt the ones we love the most - pain is a family affair
LibraryThing member cms519
The Story Sister has much in common with Hoffman's earlier novel, Practical Magic. A focus on relationships between sisters and a hint of the supernatural. Elv, Meg and Claire are different enough from each other to be distinguishable as characters but sometimes fell a little flat.

I enjoyed this
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audiobook quite a bit although there were parts of the story that I didn't enjoy. I didn't find Elv's boyfriend to be a believable character at all and I couldn't believe that Elv fell for his stories.

Paul Smith seemed entirely too good to be true. He was definitely like the detective from Hoffman's earlier book, Practical Magic.

Entertaining but not a new favorite.
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LibraryThing member rldougherty
The three Story sisters share more than a set of divorced parents; they share an enchanting beauty, a secret language - Arnish; a secret world - Arnelle, a passion for stories, and a tragic, yet beautiful life. Is evil present in each of us; or an external force to be held at bay with charms and
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LibraryThing member bookchickdi
Alice Hoffman is an author known for her novels filled with magical touches. Her latest, The Story Sisters, continues that, when a magical world created by three sisters collides with the reality of the world in which we all exist.

Elizabeth, called Elv, Meg and Claire Story live with their mother
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in a small town on Long Island. Their parents are in the middle of a bad divorce, and it has affected the girls deeply. When they were young children, Elv (whose nickname connotes the fairy-like elves) created a fairy tale world, Arnelle, which had its own language. It slightly concerned their mother Annie when they would continue to speak this language, even as they grew out of childhood. Annie's mother Natalia warns her that this behavior could isolate the girls from the real world.

This fantasy world contrasts with the physical world in which they live. Annie has a large garden, and grows heirloom tomatoes. The girls are knowledgeable in all areas tomato. They love animals: Elv likes dogs, Claire rides horses. Elv is artistic, attracted to painting and color. Meg is a voracious reader, and a very good student. They sleep in the same bedroom, and are each other's best friends.

The horrors of the real world intrude on the girls of Arnelle when a bad man hurts Elv, who saves the younger Claire from his clutches. They never tell anyone about "the day the bad thing happened", not even Meg. This bad thing, and her reluctance to tell her mother, causes Elv to act out. Annie is struggling too, "she felt as if everything she did was in halves: half a mother, half a teacher, half a woman". In that one sentence, Hoffman articulates the feelings of so many women.

Elv begins to believe "that evil repelled evil, while good collected it", and she is determined to become evil in order to expel it from her life. She uses drugs, becomes promiscuous, steals- everything a young woman with low self esteem does to dull her pain. Meg is angered by her sister's behavior, but Claire vows to remain loyal to Elv. Elv's behavior breaks the bonds of sisterhood she so tenderly nurtured.

Hoffman uses imagery and metaphors so beautifully. When Elv saves a kitten thrown into a river, she tells Claire that she is haunted because she couldn't save a second kitten thrown in. Claire reminds her that it is important that she saved one, but Elv can't get over that she couldn't save the other, echoing the fact that she saved Claire once, but was unable to save herself.

The author's writing hits home with the reader, as when following a death, Annie's cousin says, "Call me the minute you need something," she told Annie and Claire, but neither of them could think of a single thing they might need that anyone could possibly give them." Everyone who has lost someone knows that exact feeling.

This is a moving, haunting novel that will make you cry. There is so much sadness, so many tragic things that happen, and we all know people about whom we say, "haven't they suffered enough?" About a good man who becomes involved with the Story family, Hoffman writes "He stayed in the kitchen with the dog for a while. He covered his face and wept. When he was done, he patted Shiloh's head. This wasn't his house or his family or his dog, but it was his sorrow."

Hoffman broke my heart with this beautiful story of how secrets can destroy, but ultimately about the power of love to redeem. I became deeply invested in her characters, and will not be able to get them out of my thoughts. It is so powerful, so moving, it is the best of what fiction attempts to be. I give it my highest recommendation of five stars.
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LibraryThing member kmaziarz
Once upon a time, when the Story sisters were young, eldest sister Elv Story tried to protect her youngest sister Claire, and the bad thing ended up happening to Elv instead. On that day, the sisters’ personal fairyland, Arnelle, was born. Elv retreated into a wonderful world of her own making,
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where she was heir to the throne and her sisters were always by her side. The magical world enchanted the other sisters as well, and playing there and speaking their private language of Arnish dominated their childhoods and much of their adolescence. But as Elv entered the always turbulent teen years, her youthful feyness spiraled dangerously into something darker and wilder. Elv’s mother and her sisters—the kind-hearted youngest Claire and the clever and rational middle girl Meg—watched helplessly as Elv began to embrace the demons that she had always decried before, dragging her entire family into the darkness with her.

Lyrical, lovely, and engrossing, “The Story Sisters” is a modern fairy tale of three sisters and their mother lost in the dark woods and struggling to find a happily ever after.
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LibraryThing member bookmagic
I started The Story Sisters yesterday afternoon and with a few breaks for sleep, finished it this morning. I was hesitant to read this now, though I am a long-time reader of Hoffman's work, because of the recent criticism surrounding the author. I am glad I did not wait. This book grabbed me from
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the beginning and kept me spellbound until the end.
The main character is Elv, the oldest sister, who was abducted and molested at age 11 after saving her sister Claire from the fate meant for her. Elv tells no one, instead she creates an imaginary world, Arnelle, with her sisters, and Arnish, their own secret language. To Elv, it is a world of good and kind, unlike the real world which is haunted by demons. Eventually Elv begins to look for the darkness in her secret world and the real one, to confront her fears. She begins doing drugs, cutting herself and shutting out her sister, Meg, who is unaware of what happened to Elv. Claire is caught between the two sisters but eventually pulls away from Elv as she sinks deeper into destruction. Elv's choices then impact the girls lives throughout the novel.
Hoffman's prose is lyrical and beautiful as usual, though this novel is darker than her others. It is also heartbreaking and moving, destructive and redeeming, and will stay with you long after you finish.
My rating: 4 stars
I wouldn't recommend this as an introduction to Hoffman's works but to anyone acquainted with her style of writing.
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LibraryThing member pdebolt
I thought I would really like this book, but after reading about 100 pages, I simply couldn't summon the interest to continue. I didn't like the characters, couldn't understand the weak oblivion of the mother, and was put off entirely by the "magical realism." I gave it 2 stars out of guilt for not
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finding out if it improved after the first 100 pages.
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LibraryThing member stonelaura
The bond between Elv, Meg and Claire, the three Story sisters changes forever on the day Elv protects Claire from an abduction and they hide the incident from everyone. At first Elv survives by retreating into her invented land but she eventually succumbs to the pull of reckless and selfish
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behavior that ends up having a dramatic affect on her whole family. I found most of the characters to be annoying rather than sympathetic. Not my favorite Hoffman - much preferred The Third Angel for family sagas.
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LibraryThing member ATechwreck
Hoffman's gift with language takes the reader on a heartbreaking journey through the ramifications of child molestation. We are introduced to three sisters, all beautiful, gifted and initially reminiscent of the March sisters in Little Women. The sisters share a secret language and two share deeper
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and darker secrets as well.
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LibraryThing member AuthorMarion
What would you do for the love of your sister or brother? Alice Hoffman takes us on a journey into the minds of three sisters who are so close as children that they have created a fantasy world where no others are allowed. This world is the creation of the oldest sister, Elv, who rescues her
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youngest sibling from probably child molestation by taking shoving her out of a moving car and taking her place. When she is released she keeps it all inside herself, vowing to keep both her sisters safe from the demons that inhabit the real world.

Elv and her sisters are the products of divorced parents. Annie, their mother, thinks she has a close bond with the girls but sadly knows nothing of their fantasy world and Elv’s private hell.

Elv is driven to sex, drugs, and the dark side in her search for love. Claire, the youngest, who Elv rescued from being a victim, watches this downward spiral. She blames herself not only for Elv’s fall but also for the deaths of people and animals she loves. Most importantly Claire blames herself for the death of their middle sister, Megan, and vows never again to love another being.

In the end, we watch the lives of the sisters drift apart before they reunite years later. It is a long, intricate journey but one that is skillfully woven by Ms. Hoffman. The characters are believable and vulnerable and I was anxious to see how they would fare. I would have enjoyed getting deeper into the feelings of Claire and learning more of the young Megan. Perhaps even learning about how the actions of the sisters caused their mother to do some of the things she did. Another aspect I would have enjoyed would have been the story of the girls’ father and how he viewed his rebellious oldest daughter.
As in other Hoffman novels we are treated to wonderful descriptions of Long Island and New England. The author makes good use of using the seasons to reflect the changing lives of Elv and her family. Another thread, common in many of Hoffman’s stories, is the use of black roses to signify the dark side of things.

In all, I didn’t like this book as much as Ms. Hoffman’s earlier works. There was just something missing, that elusive call to the reader that says, “don’t put me down just yet”.

The story starts out full of promise but it isn’t until the final chapters that the promise is fulfilled. The middle reads like just so many other stories one sees on the nightly news.
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LibraryThing member Reader_Barbara
The Story Sisters is an incredible tale of love, loss, tragedy and betrayal. It follows the lives of the Story Sisters: Elv, Meg & Claire and how each of their lives is impacted by a single tragedy which places each of them on the path to her destiny. Alice Hoffman's telling leads us into a dark
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world of sadness, depression, drug abuse and death. It is written so honestly and thoughtfully that the reader is drawn into the world of these sisters and feels their pain right along with them. This is an amazing work.

I absolutely love Alice Hoffman & tend to devour her books rather quickly. This one, however, took me over a week to read. When I started it, the material was a little dark & disturbing, so I put it down, walked away & actually read another book before I came back to it. But, I did come back to it. I really wanted to know what happened to these girls and I cried several times while reading it. But, it was worth working through all the tragedy and heartbreak these girls face in order to see where they end up. As usual, I can't wait for the next Alice Hoffman to show up on my shelf.
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LibraryThing member chack
This is a beautiful book about the redemptive power of love. For awhile it seems as though it may be unredemptive and depressing, as more characters die than in Hamlet, but it builds to an uplifting ending.
LibraryThing member ChrisSterry
I spent the whole of today reading this book, and could not put it down. It was not an easy read. Other reviewers comment on the number of deaths which, did, by early afternoon, begin to get me down. The colours which pervade this book are wonderful. I feel like I want to paint a review, rather
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than write one. Colours, and textures as well! And how can one novel encompass so may heirlooms varieties of tomato. I have had great delight googling them all, and will add some, Black Krim especially, to my repertoire. As darkness seemed to intensify in the novel, the final luminous ending was such a delight.... and I wish Claire’s charms and amulets were real. I want one—the tomato plant, preferably!
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LibraryThing member butterflybaby
Elv and her sisters made a world of their own in which they are safe from all harm. Elv tries to protect her sisters from the pain that she knows exsists in the world. While trying to protect her sisters and mother she pushes them away from her. Elv finds redemption and peace at the end of the
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book. Dark and beautiful. I feel that this is one of Hoffman's strongest stories.
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LibraryThing member weaselmama
Alice Hoffman's done it again. A gripping tale about three sisters and the unbreakable bond they share...until tragedy strikes. A wonderful story for any woman who is a sister.
LibraryThing member loveread
The New York Times says it's Little Women on mushrooms and that tickled me. I love Alice Hoffman anyway, her novels and short stories, and The Story Sisters is good Hoffman, part magical real, part the awful greyness of the real world we live in. The Story sisters is a great read. If you love
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Hoffman you'll be reading it anyway.
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LibraryThing member Virtual_Jo
Alice Hoffman is one of my favourite writers and this story about the close relationship between three sisters, which is destroyed by a horrific act, is utterly compelling and believable.
LibraryThing member KinnicChick
A book whose theme is redemption and forgiveness, it is a portrait of three sisters, Elisabeth (or Elv), the oldest, who after saving middle sister Claire from a tragedy during their youth, and then having to go through the tragedy herself as she through herself into harms way. Her life turned in a
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rather dark and difficult way as she lived under the weight of the secret from that day.

Claire went through her own pain and guilt living with that secret and keeping the peace between Elv and middle sister Meg, who was not privy to the knowledge of the tragedy and was made to feel like and outsider from then on.

Elv is an amazing story teller – she needs the rich fantasy world in which to escape because of all of the pain she buries. The girls live with their single mother who does the best she can to raise them while their father is mostly absent, living with his younger wife.

It was a beautifully told and fast read. But as a divorced mother to a dark and imaginative daughter myself, I think I need to steer clear of books about broken families for a while. They are causing me too much worry and pain.
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LibraryThing member mcdougaldd
This book is stunning, full of raw emotion. The idyllic life of three sisters is shattered one by one as their lives' events intrude upon them. Will there be redemption from their guilt, shame, sorrow? Can happiness ever be restored? This book takes the reader on a journey which cannot be resisted.
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Through the sadness and ugliness of events the beauty of life does manage to shine through.
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LibraryThing member angelswing
I loved this book. Honestly, at first I didn't think I would, but it was so well written. What I especially liked was the way Hoffman weaves fantasy together with reality. It's a great read. I recommend it.
LibraryThing member bearette24
In some ways, I thought this was one of Alice Hoffman's best novels. The writing was intense and compelling. The book is about the Story sisters - Elv, Meg and Claire. Elv is the wild child, while Meg is practical and Claire initially worships Elv. Elv becomes more and more troubled and the story
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follows her descent and eventual rebirth.

My one complaint is that a lot of the characters died. It kind of felt like no one would be left standing.
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LibraryThing member gaskella
Elv, Claire and Meg Story are sisters. They’re extremely close, inventing a language all of their own – Arnish – even their mother is excluded from their fantasy world, and the younger two are always rapt with Elv’s storytelling about the fairy land of Arnelle. Theirs is a world full of
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women, their parents having divorced some time ago, and they also revered their French grandmother Natalia, who lives in Paris which has a strong attraction for the girls. Then one day, Elv rescues Claire from a nasty encounter with a man and that event, despite remaining a secret, will change everything. When she reaches sixteen, Elv begins to go off the rails, taking drugs, partying and other reckless behaviour …

"She found the tattoo shop. Patrons were supposed to be eighteen, but Elv looked old enough, as if she knew what she wanted, so no one asked for ID. She had two black stars tattooed above each shoulder, in the place where her wings would be. She found the pain soothing in a strange way, a gateway out of her body, into Arnelle. There was an army gathering there: the Queen had posted them at the doorway. Anyone residing in the human world was suspect, including Elv. Prove yourself, one of the guards said to her. She was wearing a black dress. Black ballet shoes. She could smell jasmine. The tattoo artist was a bit leery now that her shirt was off. He said, ‘This might hurt.’ As if she cared about that. He covered the tattoos with white bandages. ‘There might be some blood seeping through,’ he told her. As if that mattered."

Soon her behaviour is so bad, her parents come together again momentarily to take her to reform school where she meets and falls totally in love with Lorry, the junkie and petty criminal brother of another inmate. Poor damaged Elv is intent on exploring the dark side of life as she grows into a woman, but although she totally dominates the book, the other sisters and their mother will have their brush with fate too. You can’t help but hope for some kind of happy ending.

Hoffman is brilliant at weaving a hint of the supernatural into a drama and turning it into something special. I found The Story Sisters a much darker novel than the last one of hers that I read, The Ice Queen. Both are about love, but The Story Sisters with its exploration of sisterhood, entwined with the secrets and twists of fate was also an affecting read.
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LibraryThing member bookfreak40
Beautiful written book. Elv, Claire and Meg, three sisters who create a fantasy world to escape the harsh realities of their lives. Tragedy strikes all three sisters at different time in their lines instead of sharing the burden of these tragedies it fractures their bond.
LibraryThing member juniperSun
The wonderfully deep characters I've come to love reading by Hoffman. While I hated that the treatment for Elv was so inadequate and so late, I completely understand the mother being too overwhelmed to notice what was going on earlier. The book did seem to peter out half way just
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chronicled rather than having her characters live them. There were memorable quotes that made me decide to keep the book anyway.
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Massachusetts Book Award (Must-Read (Longlist) — Fiction — 2010)




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