The Big Moose Prize Winner


ISBN: 978-1-62557-024-6
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Reviews & Media Review in the MISSOULIAN

The Stone Sister

Publication Date: September 2021


Winner of the 2020 Big Moose Prize and the 2022 High Plains Book Award

Spanning the mid to late 20th century and set in the Elkhorn Valley of southwestern Montana, The Stone Sister is told from three points of view — a father’s, a nurse’s, and a sister’s. Together they tell the unforgettable story of a child’s birth, disappearance, and finally discovery in a home for “backward children.” Robert Carter, a newly married man just back from World War II, struggles with his and his wife’s decision to entrust the care of their disabled child to an institution and “move on” with family life. Louise Gustafson, a Midwestern nurse who starts over with a new life in the West, finds herself caring for a child everyone else has abandoned. And Elizabeth Carter, a young journalist, uncovers the family secret of her lost sister as she struggles with starting a family of her own.

The Stone Sister explores the power of family secrets and society’s evolving definitions of “normal”–as it pertains to family, medicine, and social structure. The novel sheds light on the beginnings of the disability justice movement as it follows one family’s journey to reckon with a painful past. Incredibly, the novel is based on Caroline Patterson’s personal story. As an adult, she discovered she had an older sister with Down syndrome who had been written out of her family history. In fact, that sister’s name was also Caroline Patterson.

Book Trailer


Credit: Craig Lancaster


In The Stone Sister, Caroline Patterson tells the moving story of how the decisions we make shape our lives and define our future. Beautifully written and compassionately told, this is a novel that will stay with me for a long, long time.

–Ann Patchett

The Stone Sister is a remarkable story of empathy, sorrow, and tender reflection. It is Caroline Patterson’s own story transfigured through fiction into a larger truth. A Downs syndrome baby girl is born to a middle class couple in a small Montana city, hidden away in a mental institution, and deliberately forgotten until her adult sister learns of her existence and begins a painful and meticulous search. Told in the voices of a self-justifying father, a devoted nurse, and a questing sister, the lost child’s journey reveals the anguish, fears, and horrors that society inflicts on those who do not fit into its definitions of normal. This is a fable for our time–a story to inform and instruct as traditional ideas of identity and inclusion are being challenged in all corners of our smug old world.

–Annick Smith

In this poignant and necessary novel, Patterson draws from her own family history to gently expose the secret shame of families who hid their developmentally challenged children in the 50s and 60s, a shame that lingered and touched the lives of everyone involved.

—Alka Joshi

Daring and vastly compassionate, Caroline Patterson insists there is always more to the story, as The Stone Sister’s fearless characters confront the hidden truths of where they live and who they are.

–Susanna Sonnenberg

Above all, because Caroline Patterson’s The Stone Sister is a retelling of the author’s own painful family history, it represents an extraordinary act of courage. This is a book with a big heart, the characters human, alive and compelling, the heartbreaking subject at its core consequential as blood.

—Kim Zupan

The Stone Sister is a powerful meditation on family, caregiving, and secrets. Caroline Patterson paints a nuanced portrait of an era, its policies forged with good intentions and devastating consequences. Encompassing many parallels to today, the novel underlines the tragedy of turning away from those who make us uncomfortable.

—Janet Skeslien Charles

Heart-breaking, riveting, and urgent, The Stone Sister explores forces more powerful than love: shame, secrets, expectations. Patterson writes like a dream. Flesh-and-blood characters and stunning prose make her debut an instant classic.

—Diana Spechler

About the Author

© Phoebe Haefele

Caroline Patterson

Caroline Patterson is the author of Ballet at the Moose Lodge and two children's books on the natural world. She edited the literary anthology Montana Women Writers: A Geography of the Heart. Her short fiction and essays have been published in journals including Epoch, Outside, Southwest Review, and Seventeen, and have been included in anthologies including A Million Acres, Montana Noir, Bright Bones, and The New Montana Story. A graduate of the University of Montana creative writing program in fiction, she was awarded the Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Fiction at Stanford University, the Joseph Henry Jackson Prize from the San Francisco Foundation, a Vogelstein Foundation Award, and the Montana Arts Council Fellowship. She’s received residencies at Ucross, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Ragdale. She is currently the executive director of the Missoula Writing Collaborative, which places writers to teach creative writing in more than 34 elementary schools in rural, urban, and reservation schools across western Montana. She lives with her husband, writer Fred Haefele, in the Missoula home her great-grandfather built in 1906, which he built on the banks of the Clark Fork River where, he told his five-year-old son back in Chicago, they could throw stones in the water and the family could come and “cut out all worrying.” Her two grown children visit on Sundays for dinner and laundry.

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