“Family Lore,” by Elizabeth Acevedo, is a multi-generational story of four sisters born with magical gifts that are revealed as they grow up in a turbulent household in the Dominican Republic. All eventually make their way to New York, leaving behind a cold mother and a mostly absent father. When the story opens in the present day, they are in their late 50’s to early 70’s.
Flor, the quiet second sister, has the ability to predict someone’s death. She keeps most of her insights to herself, sharing only occasionally. Flor has indicated that she cannot predict her own death so her daughter and her sisters are fearful when Flor decides to host a living wake for herself. She says she only wants to celebrate herself after years of being self-effacing and humble.
Flor gives her family only six weeks to prepare for a lavish celebration which she has planned down to the last detail. It includes 200 people and a live band. The entire novel takes place over these six weeks.
Each of Flor’s sisters struggle in their own way although they benefit from their gifts. Only the eldest, Matilde, seems to have little magic, except for her exceptional kindness. Pastora can see everybody's truth. Camila, the youngest, has a gift with herbs. Flor’s daughter, Ona, and Pastora’s daughter, Yadi, have developed gifts that rely more on what they can do for others.
The drama leading up to Flor’s living wake celebrates strong and resilient women. Men are mentioned less often and without much to redeem them. Not all males come across as scoundrels.
The story of the four sisters segues seamlessly between the past and the present. The love and closeness among them are touching; they have survived much and are self-aware in the present. Their insights and perceptions toward their own daughters are told with humor and tenderness.
“Family Lore” is Acevedo’s first adult novel. She has won awards for her books for young adults.