Family loyalty is stretched almost to the breaking point in Give, but sisters Jessie and Emma never waver in their mutual love. The girls' mother, Laurel, is a narcissist who abandons her daughters, but the girls' grit and their father's stoic support guide them in Erica C. Witsell's striking debut novel.

Laurel's pregnancy prompts a wedding to college professor Len during her senior year at Berkeley in 1974. Resentful of her interrupted youth, she's an unenthusiastic mother, toying with infidelity when Emma is conceived. After the inevitable divorce, she concedes custody to Len, who remarries and provides a stable home for the girls. But Laurel reappears inconsistently, luring the girls to her Northern California ranch and her relaxed lifestyle for vacations. Jessie takes to the bohemian atmosphere but Emma resists, even refusing to visit, a schism that erodes the sisters' relationship. Variations on this theme persist, including Laurel's denied request for a change of custody. After a 10-year break, the story resumes with both Jessie and Emma successful college graduates and Laurel announcing that she is moving, to become the third in a polyamorous relationship.

The sisters are sympathetic characters, struggling with their identities, faithful to each other, while Laurel is quirky to the point of incredulity. The plot rolls toward a climax that is both incredible and fascinating. Witsell has crafted a story of relationships, love and guilt that, while dramatically complex, underscores the challenges of humans linked by family ties. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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