My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
My first attempt at reading a Justine Larbalestier book, Razorhurst, didn't really impress me...but My Sister Rosa is truly something else.
Much of the story centers on Che, who fulfills a fish-out-of-water protagonist role as an Aussie freshly moved to New York. Right away, he starts trying to make friends (though he continues to text his old friends back home in Sydney), and soon finds himself part of a very diverse social circle, making friends of all stripes, and even working up the courage to romance Sojourner, the beautiful girl who works out at the boxing gym he discovers.
It's a nice little story...but there's just a little something off about it. That something off is the title character, who falls firmly in the uncanny valley (it's even discussed among Che's new friends while they get high) with her personality and affect. She's a cute little genius, but feels just artificial, and possibly psychopathic, enough to be creepy. It certainly doesn't help that she tends to lurk around the periphery while Che tries to have his own life rather than be her surrogate parent while their real parents are off doing what my own little sister would call "businessy stuff." (Think Confessions of a Murder Suspect, but far less "1% of the 1%" in its wealth and opulence.) And that she treats everything like some kind of experiment, especially of the social kind (it's hinted that she can get into people's heads and make them do violent things) and of the psychological kind (I shouldn't have been eating chips while reading this book - the part where Rosa sits in to watch Che sleep, and witnesses him having a wet dream, AND appears to know exactly what happened, made me gag and almost spit half-eaten fried potato bits all over the book.)
Between this and Razorhurst, Larbalestier is definitely one of the more unique and experimental YA authors out there. But for My Sister Rosa, Larbalestier absolutely wins all the points for crafting what must be the most psychologically bloody disgusting YA book of the year, and making me not want to stop reading it. Though, of course, Rosa and her creepiness aren't all the story is about. Che's new social circle brings up tons of social commentary, including arguments on race relations and gender roles and non-traditional applications of Christian messages. Then there's Che himself, who proves a very relatable teenage protagonist - realistically average-looking, though plagued with acne; frequently preoccupied with sex and frustrated by his continued virginity; always seeking independence - and a touch of rebellion, as he does in his boxing. I liked how that was included in the story, because boxing is something I'd convince my own teenage self to take up if I could, and I write it a lot into my own books as part of my ongoing writing-as-therapy process.
And, lest we forget, the plot twists - which, particularly in the last fifty pages or so, fly thick and fast and even wreck my feels.
Though I was a little wary of trying other Larbalestier books after Razorhurst, I'm rethinking that after reading this book. I'll have to look into ordering anything and everything else she's published at the library, as soon as possible.
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