Her Sister's Gift is a fictional account of the life in the early twentieth century of the author's grandparents Isa and Peter. It charts the life of its main character Isa whose life is brought crashing down around her following the death of two of her siblings, followed closely by that of her mother. Isa is just 11 at the start of this story and on the day that her mother gives birth to her fifth child, a boy, who is sadly stillborn, her sister Eliza is killed in a tragic accident on the railway line behind their house. Whilst Isa cannot forgive herself, her mother never recovers and within the year dies of a broken heart. Isa is forced to abandon school and her own hopes for the future to raise her two younger sisters and keep house for her father, John. He finds solace in heavy drinking which affects his mood and his relationship with his eldest daughter who comes to fear and loathe him in equal measure.
When the First World War starts, John chooses to go to war rather than stay at home as he might given his is a reserved occupation. The two youngest girls leave for a children's home in Falkirk and Isa is enrolled in The Glasgow and West of Scotland College of Domestic Science. All of the girls thrive in their new environments and Isa is soon on her way to London in the service of an aristocratic family. Here she finds life initially hard, but is taken under the wing of kindly Mrs Roberts at whose hands she learns kitchen craft. She finds a friend in Harry the chauffeur and is well respected by Lord and Lady Tolquhoun, her employers. But her stable new life is not to last and when Isa's father returns from the front paralysed and suffering memory loss she feels honour bound to return north to be with him and take up her old position within the family.
In time, Isa finds domestic work back in Falkirk, enabling her to support her father whilst retaining some degree of independence. She is successful in her work and progresses to managing her own kitchen. When at last she meets a man, Peter, with whom she can see a future together, she moves happily into married life. But Isa's happiness is short lived. Though she has a daughter, her marriage is not what she thought it would be and in time she learns that her husband is having an affair. All of this is the final straw for Isa, to whom it becomes clear that she is to be forever punished for the tragedies within her family; so she seeks to atone for what she sees to be her sins in the only way she feels she can.
Her Sister's Gift is a poignant tale which deals with human emotions laid bare. Isa starts out a child of 11, very quickly having to take on the roles and responsibilities of one much older. She grows into a confident and capable young woman, becomes and wife and a mother. The reader is taken on Isa's journey with her, is able to share in the emotional highs and lows she experiences and feel her fear in what she perceives to be her total failure as a person, despite her clear successes. Isabel Jackson writes sensitively on her subject and the reader is drawn in, willing Isa to face up to her past and realise that sometimes things just happen and no one is really to blame. Her Sister's Gift is a beautifully crafted book and a credit to its author.