Welcome to STYLE Canada‘s Boreal Book Club: a monthly meeting narrated by Erin, reviewer at Girl Well Read, for bookworms who’re looking to scour new pages. Since we aim to shine a spotlight on all things Canadian in life and style, beauty, and health and wellness, it goes without saying that every installment of the Boreal Book Club will feature a Canadian author and their latest title. Be sure to use the hashtag #borealbookclub to share with us on social!
1967 Iowa. Nursing school roommates BettyKay and Kitty don’t have much in common. A farmer’s daughter, BettyKay has risked her family’s disapproval to make her dreams come true away from her small rural town. Cosmopolitan Kitty has always relied on her beauty and smarts to get by and to hide a devastating secret from the past that she can’t seem to outrun. Yet the two share a determination to prove themselves in a changing world, forging an unlikely, powerful bond on a campus unkind to women.
Before their first year is up, tragedy strikes, and the women’s paths are forced apart. But against all odds, a decades-long friendship forms, persevering through love, marriage, failure and death, from the jungles of Vietnam to the glamorous circles of Hollywood. Until one snowy night leads their relationship to the ultimate crossroads.
Fifty years later, two estranged sisters are shocked when a famous movie star shows up at their mother’s funeral. Over one tumultuous weekend, the women must reckon with a dazzling truth about their family that will alter their lives forever…
Told from the perspectives of Clara, BettyKay, and Abbie, and with alternating timelines, The Sunshine Girls is about the power of female relationships. Strong women are what elevate the story.
Fader also employs an epistolary style narrative with the inclusion of the torn out pages from BettyKay’s diaries. These missing passages not only provide context, but they offer insight to the societal expectations of the time. The women were confined with their limited choices and by the men in their lives—Hugh, Dr. Fischer, Rex, and Jenny’s father, Roy.
Kitty, Jenny, and BettyKay have difficult relationships with their parents. It is these fractured relationships that not only shape their lives, but strengthen their bonds—they are sustained by their friendship.
With its instant hook, compelling characters, well-kept secrets, and a little bit of old Hollywood glamour, The Sunshine Girls is a captivating and enlightening read that’s a perfect book club choice.
MOLLY FADER is an award-winning author of more than 40 romance novels under the pennames Molly O’Keefe and M. O’Keefe. The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets was her first women’s fiction novel.
Fader resides in Toronto with her family.
Scroll to read Girl Well Read’s exclusive interview with Molly Fader.
GWR: You also write contemporary romance and erotic romance (under M. O’Keefe and Molly O’Keefe) in addition to book club fiction. Do you approach each novel the same way or does it vary depending on the genre?
MF: My approach to writing every book is pretty much the same. An idea grabs a hold of me and I ask myself a bunch of questions about the people in the idea and what those people want and what they need and the secrets they might be keeping. When I’m writing a romance—these questions are really focused on the relationship between the two people falling in love. I think about sex quite a bit 🙂 and ask myself what sex means to them and how can I make that more interesting/compelling/moving.
Book club fiction opens up the questions. I get to think about the secrets mothers keep from daughters and how siblings have different experiences with the same parent and how the effects of the choices people make can rattle through families. I also like exploring the recent past in book club fiction. The Sunshine Girls takes place in the 1960’s-1980’s and now and the research into that era was fascinating.
GWR: How did you come up with the title? Were there actually “Sunshine Girls”?
MF: Ha—well, there were Sunshine Girls, but it was my T-Ball team as a kid!!! I was thinking of the candy stripers—girls who volunteered in hospitals and wore striped uniforms. It’s kind of a too sweet name for pretty difficult job. I liked the idea of these first year nurses having a name like that—something slightly misleading and bright in contrast to the occasional darkness of the job.
GWR: What was the inspiration for the novel and how did you decide at which point to start the story?
MF: Amazingly, the beginning of the novel—with two estranged sister’s at their mother’s small town funeral and in walks none other than stage and screen icon—Kitty Devereaux to tell them they didn’t really know their mother at all. That scene came to me in a dream. And that actually happens a lot but I never remember the dream or I try and write it down and it’s just gibberish. But that scene stuck with me—and so I started to ask my questions. Why are the sister’s estranged? How would Kitty Devereaux meet a small town, Iowa nurse? Why was she kept a secret? And those questions led me directly to my mom’s experience in nursing school in the 1960’s.
I can’t imagine I’m going to have an experience like that again. It was really magical and fun. The story felt like it was waiting for at every turn.
GWR: Can you tell us about the research you did?
MF: Some of the events in the past time line are lifted directly from my mother’s experience. She and my aunt were an absolute treasure trove of historical and medical details. I went down a rabbit hole of women’s reproductive rights from early pregnancy tests and ultra sounds to abortion procedures. There have been some amazing books published by women who served as nurses in Vietnam—those books were utterly invaluable.
GWR: Give your best Hollywood pitch for the book and who would you cast?
MF: The Sunshine Girls is about two sisters who realize their mother isn’t who they’d always thought when a legendary movie star shows up at her funeral, unraveling the sweeping story of a friendship that begins at a nursing school in Iowa in 1965 and onward as it survives decades of change, war, fame-and the secrets they kept for each other.
Oh, this is an endlessly fun game. A lot of readers have come to me with really surprising choices!
I always saw the sisters as Aidy Bryant and Kate McKinnon—I think the two of them could really bring out some of the humour in their storyline.
BettyKay and Kitty are tricky because the timeline is over so many years. Obviously, I thought about Reese Witherspoon for Kitty. Or Nicole Kidman. Those two women have a lot of star power.
I love the actress Melanie Lynskey for BettyKay. Or Amy Adams would be great too.
GWR: Why did you decide to write The Sunshine Girls from multiple and generational points of view?
MF: I’ve been wanting to do a dual timeline book for a while. I love reading them and I was just waiting for the right kind of story to come together. And Kitty Devereaux walked into the funeral and gave me that story. I was really interested in making the Hollywood Legend come from surprising origins.
GWR: Female relationships—mother and daughter, sisters, friends—are paramount to all of your contemporary fiction novels (The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets, The Bitter and Sweet of Cherry Season, The Sunshine Girls). What other authors are especially good on writing these types of relationships?
MF: Oh gosh—SO MANY. I love Canadian author Heather O’Neill—she has an AMAZING voice and she writes nuanced female friendships so well. Joshilyn Jackson is a hero of mine and even her new domestic suspense novels have rich and surprising female relationships. A fabulous debut this year was The Thread Collectors by Alyson Richman and Shaunna J. Edwards—a novel set during the American Civil War about two very different women. And a Canadian debut I seriously loved was Looking for Jane by Heather Marshall about the real-life underground networks organizing safe abortions before they were legal and homes for unwed mothers.
Sonali Dev’s new one—The Vibrant Years—about three generations of women all starting to date is fabulous.
GWR: The men in the story tried to control the women in their lives and these women were also confined by their limited number of choices. Why was this important for you to write about?
MF: Well, it sprang from the time and the place. My mother told me when she choose to go to nursing school—she only had two options for employment—nursing or teaching. She chose nursing and nursing school and hospitals were a tiered system—with male doctors at the top. It was also really important to me to tell a story about how women’s reproductive rights were shrouded in lack of information. We all know the 60’s and 70’s were a time of huge social change for women and I wanted to write a very personal story about what that looked like.
GWR: If your book was a beverage, what would it be?
MF: Oh, my mom’s lemonade for sure. Tart, sweet, icy cold. Refreshing and comforting at the same time.
GWR: What are you working on now?
MF: I am working on a super fun book set in the early 80’s NYC. It features Studio 54, some female vigilantes, and two sisters trying to find out the truth about their mother.
Last modified: January 31, 2023