Sister Got Game
by Leslie Esdaile, contemporary (2004)
Dafina, $6.99, ISBN 0-7582-0856-1


It is nice to see that Leslie Esdaile is still writing. I have no idea when Deborah Smith will have a new book out, I have to wait until June for Jeanne Ray's new book, and I need someone to remind me that there are still books being published that deal with people, emotions, and family in warm, sometimes kooky, honest, and whimsical manner. Sister Got Game is the author's most conventional story to date but I still find myself laughing with the author or sighing over the romantic scenes like I always do with books by this author.

Darien Jackson is living out a Sex In The City life, only somehow things have taken a turn for the worse around the time she was retrenched from her public relations job. Still, she insists on living the high life like she used to until she can't escape the bill collectors any more one day. Maxwell Ferguson shows up to repossess her car. I'm sure Darien wearing only a red teddy under her mink coat is only an oversight, heh. Darien nonetheless spins a sob story to Maxwell about how horrible her life is and how Max will only make it worse for her if he takes back the car. Boo-hoo-hoo. Max finds her attractive and decides to offer her an alternative method of payment. Get your mind out of the gutter, people. He will hire her as a PR consultant for Allied States, LLC. Darien isn't so keen to move from Philadelphia to Macon, Georgia (which is a downgrade of standards for her) but what choice does she have? Darien has a surprise waiting for her though when she shows up for work. Max is actually the CEO of Allied States, LLC. The company is owned and run by the Ferguson clan so Darien is a mouse that has stepped into the lion's den, so to speak.

I'm still not sure whether Max hires Darien because he is moved by her or because he is moved in a different kind of way, if you get my drift. But that is like the chicken and the egg because there's really no way to figure out which comes first or which moved first, Max's heart or his little buddy. What matters is that Ms Esdaile manages to hit me in all the little corners of my heart that I don't know still exist, places that still harbor some idealistic whimsy that won't die no matter how cynical I try to be, because in the end I'm rooting for Max and Darien all the way.

To be honest, Darien is actually a typical poor little Cinderella who lost her way, one whose background is designed to evoke sympathy from the reader, while Max is a rather one-dimensional Prince Charming character. Darien is however a well-written character, well fleshed-out with strengths and flaws that made her seem human rather than a mere character in a story. When she realizes that Max is rich, she starts making her moves on him because she thinks that he is her ticket to the good times. Her inevitable epiphany and transformation never come off as corny or overly sentimental. Eventually, Max doesn't come off as a character designed to save Darien from poverty but someone who really has genuine feelings for Darien. The initial premise of the story may not be the most promising but in the end Ms Esdaile manages to move beyond that and give me a story about two people who are in love and in the process, learn good things about themselves.

The secondary characters demonstrate further how Ms Esdaile manages to take familiar elements in a romance novel and make them her own. The Ferguson clan may be a typical matchmaking clan in any other romance novel but here, the clan doesn't matchmake for the sake of matchmaking. They are even - gasp - shocked that Max would hire Darien and while they can see the chemistry between those two (they would have to be blind in order not to), they are torn about it. Well, they want Max to be happy but they aren't sure whether Darien will make him happy. The Ferguson clan behaves like a typical loving close-knit family.

While some of the dialogs have a stilted, rehearsed, motivation-seminar tinge to them, the characters and the emotions flowing through the pages of Sister Got Game are well-written to make up for that. The reason why this book works so well with me is because Ms Esdaile makes an effort to make her characters come off as idealized, romantic, but still recognizable human beings while making sure that the emotions the main characters experience remain as realistic, complicated, and cathartic as she can get away with in a story that requires a happy ending. In short, Ms Esdaile wants her story to be as real and honest as possible. That is why Sister Got Game could have yet another pleasant romantic comedy in the hands of another author but instead, Ms Esdaile makes it so much more than that.

Rating: 88


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