The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Someone else's life is always better than yours, warts and all, and you wanted what she got, partly because she got it first. Greener grass often goes with sour grapes but, as in the new novel, "The Clover Girls" by Viola Shipman, it ultimately depends on how well you tend your garden.

V, formerly known as Veronica, felt fat.

She was sure that her husband, David, was embarrassed by the weight she'd put on since the kids were born and she'd had to give up her modeling career. Yes, she was once a cover model, lithe and beautiful. Now, she had an extra 15 pounds, but no career, no forward-looking future, and no friends.

And then she got the letter.

When they were kids at Camp Birchwood, Rachel told her camp-mates that she'd be a famous actress someday. More than 20 years later, she was famous alright – as the spokeswoman for a misogynistic political candidate. Everybody hated what Rachel said on his behalf and they sometimes hated her, too. But she was happy – wasn't she?

And then she got the letter.

As Liz sat next to her dying mother, it hit her: Liz's own kids and grandkids would never take care of her like that when the time came. So what kind of legacy was she leaving, then? There was her online store and a respectable amount of sales, but the creativity she had as a girl – the talent her friends appreciated – had never quite taken hold. And where were those friends these days, she wondered.

And then she got the letter.

Em said she'd be dead by the time they read their letters, that cancer had metastasized too far for a cure. Sweet, dear Emily was the only one who'd kept track of everyone; she'd hoped the friendship-shattering event that happened years ago was forgivable and she took a drastic move to try and make it so.

But is a four-leaf clover that's missing a leaf still lucky?

There's a meme thread going around social media chiding men who write awkwardly about female characters. You might ask yourself, then, how author Wade Rouse, a gay man writing under a female pseudonym, would do it.

The answer is: with a semi-contrived plot and a whole lotta heart.

On one end, readers who are used to more action-packed novels may roll their eyes: the main characters in "The Clover Girls" are all celebrity look-alikes, their spat was schoolgirl-silly, the plot lines are oh-so-convenient, how many times will they spread Emily's ashes, and where did Liz get all that fabric? It's enough to make you squint – and yet, the basic story here is sweet and not outrageously dramatic. Shipman/Rouse instead makes it gentle, loving, squeaky-clean, and perfect for sharing with anyone who devours women's fiction like this.

So put aside the go-go-go novels. Look beyond the contrivances, and "The Clover Girls" may be your next obsession. Find it, and you might not be able to "leaf" it alone.


"The Clover Girls" by Viola Shipman

c.2021, Graydon House

$16.99 / $21.99 Canada 416 pages

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