For local teens, the first scene of Jillian Cantor's debut novel, "The September Sisters," may feel familiar. Fighting with siblings, gabbing with a friend on the phone, and cooling off in a swimming pool are images that set the stage for the story placed in the Philly suburbs. But this familiarity is quickly shattered by the shock of a sudden kidnapping and the mystery that ensues.
In "The September Sisters," the world of 13-year-old Abigail Reed is turned upside down when her younger sister, Becky, goes missing in the night. Abby struggles to cope with the loss of her sister, the strained relationship of her parents, and the emotions of becoming a teenager.
Cantor, who grew up in Bucks County and attended Council Rock High School, said that the setting for the story came about organically.
" 'September Sisters' is really a coming of age story, and so I just imagined it where my own childhood was . . . it felt like the natural place to set it in."
Readers from the area will identify with her description of guarded suburbs with "winding, hilly streets" and "two-story house after two-story house, each one strangely identical," in contrast to nearby Philadelphia. Specific references such as field trips to the Art Museum and the Franklin Institute help draw the reader further into Cantor's childhood world.
Although the story is fiction,the author pulled more than just the setting from her own life.
Cantor said the scene in the pool on the night before Becky's disappearance in which Abigail and her sister fight over a float was typical of her own childhood.
"Once that image came into my head it felt like it had to be there."
This relationship with her sister was part of the inspiration for Cantor's characterization of Abigail and Becky. "I was in my early 20s and my sister and I had just become friends," when she began writing the manuscript.
"I thought, 'How would my life have been different if I hadn't had the chance to become friends with her?' " *
- Caroline Hanamirian