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Bourne again? Three sisters set out to save their town in Laurie Frankel’s ‘One Two Three’

“One Two Three” by Laurie Frankel  (Henry Holt - handout)
“One Two Three” by Laurie Frankel (Henry Holt - handout)
By Bethanne Patrick Special To The Washington Post

In Laurie Frankel’s new book, “One Two Three,” the Mitchell sisters, a set of 16-year-old triplets, provide perspective on a town ravaged geographically and psychically by toxic chemical runoff in the local river. In chapters labeled according to sisterly voice (one is Mab, two is Monday, three is Mirabel), readers learn the sins of the father shall be visited on at least one son – and, depending on perspective, on these three daughters, too.

Born in the small town of Bourne, the three sisters have three levels of ability. Mab is pretty, accomplished and “normal”; Monday is pretty, focused and “on the spectrum”; and Mirabel is a beautiful genius who for unspecified reasons uses a wheelchair and a computer-generated “voice.”

Their father died of cancer before they were born, and their mother, Nora, works as the town barkeep and therapist. Along with Pastor Jeff, who is also a physician, “they corner, between them, each of Bourne’s holy trinity – Nora treats their minds, Jeff their bodies and souls.” Bourne is likely in New England but might be anywhere; for a nonfiction account of a place like it, read “Mill Town” by Kerri Arsenault set in Mexico, Maine.

Just as we’re learning about the Bourners, their singularity and grit, a wrench is thrown in the works by the arrival of the Templeton family: Nathan, his wife, Apple, and their son, River – a ghastly name choice, given that his family is descended from Duke Templeton, owner and founder of Belsum Chemicals, which caused the town’s cancer deaths, birth defects and economic devastation.

Nora began a class-action lawsuit when her daughters were infants but doesn’t have sufficient admissible evidence to win it. River’s matriculation at Bourne Memorial High School causes a ruckus among the local youths who early on give him regular beatings.

But it also causes a ruckus in the hearts of the Mitchell sisters. They wrestle with their misgivings about this possible enemy in their midst until they befriend him and bring him on board in their mother’s nearly lost cause to prove that Belsum has evil intentions for Bourne’s remaining resources.

This would be a compelling plot told in a straightforward manner. Told through the voices of Mab, Monday and Mirabel, it becomes richer, funnier and more poignant.

Their adolescent ideas about their fellow residents (who include a wonderful elderly neighbor nicknamed Pooh), their hopes and dreams for their futures (Mirabel has no illusions about her own) and their determination to fight for justice make this one of the summer’s freshest novels.

“One Two Three” tells a more complicated story than its title implies, all the while reminding us that big changes can be made through small steps.

Bethanne Patrick is the editor of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”

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