When Siddalee Walker, oldest daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Ya-Ya extraordinaire, is interviewed in the New York Times about a hit play she's directed, her mother gets described as a "tap-dancing child abuser." Enraged, Vivi disowns Sidda. Devastated, Sidda begs forgiveness, and postpones her upcoming wedding. All looks bleak until the Ya-Yas step in and convince Vivi to send Sidda a scrapbook of their girlhood mementos, called "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." As Sidda struggles to analyze her mother, she comes face to face with the tangled beauty of imperfect love, and the fact that forgiveness, more than understanding, is often what the heart longs for.
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood may call to mind Prince of Tides in its unearthing of family darkness; in its unforgettable heroines and irrepressible humor and female loyalty, it echoes Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe.
Wells is a Louisiana-born Seattle actress and playwright; her loopy saga of a 40-year-old player in Seattle's hot theater scene who must come to terms with her mama's past in steamy Thornton City, Louisiana, reads like a lengthy episode of Designing Women written under the influence of mint juleps and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!. The Ya-Yas are the wild circle of girls who swirl around the narrator Siddalee's mama, Vivi, whose vivid voice is "part Scarlett, part Katharine Hepburn, part Tallulah." The Ya-Yas broke the no-booze rule at the cotillion, skinny-dipped their way to jail in the town water tower, disrupted the Shirley Temple look-alike contest, and bonded for life because, as one says, "It's so much fun being a bad girl!"
Siddalee must repair her busted relationship with Vivi by reading a half-century's worth of letters and clippings contained in the Ya-Ya Sisterhood's packet of "Divine Secrets." It's a contrived premise, but the secrets are really fun to learn.