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  • Writer's picturePatti Callahan Henry

Video: StarNewsOnline: Outside the Book —‘The Favorite Daughter’ Comes Home

Book review: A South Carolina family wrestles with old conflicts and new problems in Patti Callahan Henry’s “The Favorite Daughter”

Alabama novelist Patti Callahan Henry (“The Stories We Tell,” The Idea of Love”) almost always sets her novels in the South Carolina Low Country (she lives part-time in Bluffton), and they almost always revolve around secrets and lies in an extended family.

Her latest, “The Favorite Daughter,” is no exception, and fans should be pleased.

The central character is Colleen Donahue a New York-based travel writer. Colleen’s from Watersend, a charming little town on the South Carolina coast, but she’s barely been back in the past decade. Ten years ago, Colleen ran away in tears after catching her fiance kissing her sister in the church hallway, just minutes before her wedding. She hasn’t spoken to her sister Hallie ever since.

Now, however, she’s been called home for a family emergency. Her father, Gavin Donahue -- big, loud and larger than life -- has been diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s. Now Colleen, Hallie and kid brother Shane (who now runs the family’s Irish pub) have to decide what to do next.

Gavin’s birthday is coming up so, between the mundane arrangements, the family decides to throw him a big party. He’s been a beloved local character for decades. (Hallie’s a professional wedding planner, so this is right up her alley.) As a present, the siblings decide to assemble a memory book, with stories and photos from Gavin’s past.

As Colleen assembles the details, though, some things just don’t add up. Why did Gavin and his wife Elizabeth (who died a couple of years ago?) abruptly leave their home in Richmond -- and why did they never go back? Exactly how much time did Gavin spend in Ireland on his post-college trip? And was Gavin and Elizabeth’s marriage exactly the happily-ever-after fairy tale that everyone pretends?

Meanwhile, Colleen is doing her best to avoid her ex, Walter, who is now married to Hallie and is the father of their two disgustingly adorable little girls. She and Hallie are tensely polite around each other, but arguments keep flaring.

There are other issues, too. As the title suggest, Colleen and Hallie have a long-simmering Smothers Brothers-style conflict. Colleen thinks their mother liked Hallie best, while Hallie’s convinced that Colleen was her daddy’s pet.

At the same time, Gavin is proving harder and harder to corral. Sometimes, he’s his lovable old self, but sometimes he keeps telling the same bad jokes over and over at five-minute intervals. Sometimes, he leaves plastic forks on the hot eye of the kitchen stove. And he keeps wanting to go out in the marshes on his johnboat. How long can the siblings keep him away?

Can this family be saved? Of course, and Henry ties all the loose ends up, a little too neatly, for an ending that’s too happy to be convincing.

Along the way, though, the author serves up some high-quality soap opera and an intriguing mystery -- one that will send Colleen to Ireland for a final solution.

Readers who enjoy Mary Alice Monroe or Sue Monk Kidd will find “The Favorite Daughter” right up their alley.

Reporter Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-343-2208 or

About the Author

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times best-selling author of fourteen novels, including the historical fiction, BECOMING MRS. LEWIS—The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. Her fifteenth novel, THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER, (Southern Contemporary Fiction) will be published June 4, 2019, and available now.

A full-time author and mother of three children, she now resides in both Mountain Brook, Alabama and Bluffton, South Carolina with her husband. Read More


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Dec 27, 2022
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