At the heart of Sister Dear is the idea that one single decision can change a person’s life forever. That moment defines and shapes the future, molding and pushing one’s chosen journey to an entirely different path.
Such is the case with Allie Marshall, the heroine of Sister Dear, who finds herself caught in a web of deceit after stumbling on the body of her town’s beloved high school football coach. Instead of running from the scene, she chooses to stay by his side and attempting to revive him, but Coach Boyd Thomas dies in Allie’s arms, leaving her the only witness to the crime.
Just an hour later, the Thomas investigation falls squarely on the shoulders of the county sheriff, Lee Gaines. The people of the town, angered and grieving the loss, begin calling for justice. Gaines, a high school football booster and friend of Thomas, hardly provides an unbiased legal perspective. If his personal connections weren’t enough to stack the evidence against Allie, the Gaines’ own recent loss and turmoil stand in the way of him seeing the truth of the situation.
While many of the Sister Dear characters, like Gaines, create barriers for Allie, the coach’s death creates a treacherous and inhospitable landscape from which Allie must be shunned. When Allie is found with the coach’s bloodied and beaten body, it is perceived, just below the surface of the community’s subconscious, that Allie has stripped the town of its right for victory, celebration, and hope for the future—she has, in fact, stolen the very joy which comes from sitting under the football field lights each Friday night.
It is no mistake that Sister Dear was set in the heart of Georgia, squarely in the midst of a place when a sport is revered as much as God and country. Though many parts of the country share a love for high school athletics, it is difficult to find a place in which adoration of football is deeper or stronger than in the Deep South. Boys are raised from birth to toss a football and root for a particular team. It is expected that young men play the game with passion and loyalty, just like their fathers, and their fathers’ fathers. Girls, in turn, cheer from the sidelines and mothers pray for their son’s safety in the stands. In many ways, football exists as the very source of a town’s identity and pride.
Not all communities in the Deep South take their love of football to the extreme, but in Sister Dear, heightening the importance of the game makes Allie’s struggle to claim innocence and clear her name that much harder. In fictional 2006 Brunswick, Ga., so important is the need to win that the townspeople and its Sheriff turn a blind eye to what the high school players are experiencing at the hands of their trusted coach.
In order to build his players into an unbeatable force, Coach Boyd Thomas devises a plan to manufacture and distribute steroids. Though Sheriff Gaines protests when he discovers the plot, he never takes a real stand against Thomas.
In that moment, Gaines concedes to the coach’s power. In that decision, his life changes. Gaines, in effect, goes against his sworn duty as an officer of the law and against his moral convictions. He stands by while players suffer the side effects from the steroids. He doesn’t step in when a player is ejected from a game in a drug-induced fury. And when players are hazed and abused by the coach for not performing up to the coach’s expectations, he doesn’t act. By the time Gaines realizes the extent of the damage done by Thomas’ plan, it’s far too late.
When all is lost, much like in the Salem Witch Trials, Allie Marshall becomes the object of fear and loathing in a town, which, by all rights, has created its own monsters, among them, one of the people she loves and trusts most in the world.
It is only through Allie’s tenacity, strength, and insistence on proving her innocence to her daughter, Caroline, that she is able to clear her name. At the risk of losing her new-found freedom, at the risk of losing everything, Allie sets off on a dangerous quest, holding one sentiment close to her heart: that the only life worth living is one in which the truth is known, no matter what the cost.
What do you think about the dark side of Sister Dear? I’d love to hear your thoughts!