Here's my review from the kind editor at Harper Collins U.K. I take her very valid and kind suggestions to heart:
‘Crazy Quilt’ is a women’s fiction novel set in the American South in the late 70s. Two sisters, Harper and McCall, who were estranged for 15 years, are reunited when their grandmother dies and leaves them her house and $10,000 each to do something frivolous. McCall left the small town they grew up in to seek a new life on the East coast, while Harper, 8 years younger, was left behind and is now divorced. The women are reunited at pivotal moments in their lives, and gradually grow closer, but secrets from the past threaten to undo everything they’ve rebuilt. Described by the author as southern chick-lit, this is a fun, warm story with a darker side that explores family relationships and the secrets we keep from those closest to us.
I very much enjoyed reading ‘Crazy Quilt’. McCall and Harper are great characters, different, but not stereotypical chalk and cheese, and the estrangement makes for an interesting dynamic. I think it's a great premise and your characters and ability to tell a great story make this an enjoyable and absorbing read. I think a large part of this is your decision to tell this from Harper’s perspective, which is skilfully done. The limitations of this viewpoint create intrigue around the other characters; this is a good example of what we don’t know being as effective as what we do. You have an easy style and the writing flows at a good pace. The events unfold naturally and are well timed and you drop in details about characters and background without disrupting the flow, for example this paragraph in the opening chapter:
‘On the surface, McCall’s reasons for moving home were clearly more practical than emotional, but then so were mine. To suddenly become half owner of a large Victorian home was a blessing to me, since I was without a home of my own after my brief marriage ended. Three years earlier I had married Nick, the Coca-Cola delivery man for the A&P where I worked as a cashier. I found out too late that he gambled away most of what he earned. My one brief attempt at building a life outside of this house had been a miserable failure.’
At this point, this is all the background information we need about Harper. We learn quite a lot about her in this short paragraph. However, I read the first 10 chapters and we don’t learn much about her marriage or divorce and how they affected her after this snapshot. This brings me on to the area that I think needs work.
You need to establish the women's characters a bit more, particularly in relation to each other; they need to feel like they have a life beyond the novel. A good way to do this would be to have them reminisce and reference the past, which you would expect them to do a bit more of in the circumstances. The opening, when the sisters meet again for the first time in 15 years, feels very realistic, it’s a great opening chapter. However, there isn't quite enough growth and development or redevelopment of their relationship. There are a couple of hints that they know a bit about each other’s lives – Harper knows what McCall does for a living, but that seems to be it – did they talk on the phone once a year, write letters? You would expect them to be a more curious about each other. What were they like as children? Have they changed much or are there lots of similarities? Does Harper feel resentment towards McCall for leaving? There are hints at this but they’re glossed over. As a reader, I’m very curious about all of these things. There's also no real conflict in this relationship, and that doesn’t ring true.
In fact, there isn't a great amount of conflict or tension anywhere, at least not in the chapters I've read. There is potential to create more drama around the existing events, for example Harper's burgeoning relationship with the doctor. This is taken in the stride of the novel and happens so quickly and easily that there was no build-up of chemistry and tension. Also, McCall’s mentions when she breaks her leg that she’ll struggle because she’s so independent, yet we aren’t shown how it affects her. Furthermore, they seem to accept the development (not wishing to give the plot away) after her hospital visit without much reaction at the time or later on. The pitch hints that conflict will come later, but you need more hints at what is to come as there’s no real drive to the plot at present.
As she is your narrator, I think some more work on Harper in particular, would really improve the novel. She undergoes something of a transformation but there isn't a huge amount of change in her attitude, demeanour, confidence etc. She makes these changes in her life, which seem to be dramatic for her, but it’s not clear to the reader if that’s the case. Again, this is about creating a life outside – in particular before – the novel. Her thoughts about Dr Swanson, for example, are very forward and perhaps a bit too “modern”, but she’s shocked by McCall’s Cosmo magazine. Harper sometimes comes across as a much younger character, and while I understand she will be naive about some things, in comparison with her sister, she's also been married and divorced and had the responsibility of caring for her dying grandmother, yet she jumps into the relationship with Dr Swanson with the enthusiasm and guilelessness of a teenager, not a woman with all that life experience. This is the area that needs the most work. Harper is brilliant in so many ways and as a reader I really warmed to her, but she is inconsistent.
I think your structure and plotting work well, and when your characters are more established, I think this will be an interesting proposition for a publisher. Overall I think this is a promising work and I hope my suggestions will be of help to you. We’d be very happy to read a rewrite.