Wednesday, March 9, 2016

[Review] My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Publication (dd/mm/yyyy): 26/01/2016
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pages: 398
Source: Bought
Genre: YA - Contemporary (14+)

Violence | Sexual Content | Profanity
My Rating: 

Intense, thought-provoking

My thoughts


HOLY SHIT. I have not been so hideously disturbed since Gone Girl. If this is the kind of writing that Justine Larbalestier is capable of, I'm certain that her other novels, particularly Razorhurst, will not disappoint. If you're looking for quality Aussie YA fiction sure to keep you up at night, look no further!

My Sister Rosa follows Che as he and his family are pulled from their Sydney home to the bustling New York City for work. Che has had to deal with the constant moving around, pretty much ever since his sister Rosa was born, and every time he makes a list:
  1. Keep Rosa under control
Only at 10 years old, she is precocious, smart, adorable and dangerous. Ever since she learned to walk Che noticed she wasn't quite like other little girls. She would enjoy harming others and feel no remorse. She would lie and steal and cheat to get her way, but after she befriended Apinya which led to the guinea pig incident... after that Che began to study her more closely. Psychopath. He needs to keep a close eye on his sister before she really hurts someone.
  1. I want to spar
Che has kept a promise with his parents ever since he took up boxing: he will not spar until he has finished growing. But after he meets gorgeous Sojourner "Sid" who also boxes at his gym he finds it harder and harder to keep that promise.
  1. I want a girlfriend
Self explanatory. Kind of hard to land a girl when you're constantly moving around.
  1. I want to go home.
Home. Meaning where his best friends are. Sydney.

The plot moved along at a slow pace for most of the book, but once I hit the halfway mark things definitely got more interesting. I suppose that is the case with many thrillers. I could tell that the author thought everything through, and the conclusion was pretty much destined from the start. It was a bit painful to read at times because it was like watching a train-wreck unfold right in front of your eyes.

The writing style was standard for YA. Written in first-person narrative in the perspective of Che, we learn everything through his eyes which means that we are blinded until the very end as well. We can only believe whatever he believes. I'm glad that the author chose to write in his perspective, because at some points I kind of doubted Che - you kind of start questioning what is really happening, which I think is good for a mystery/thriller novel.

I liked Che. I found him to be a well-fleshed out character that was easy to relate to. He's just your typical teenage boy who wants his own freedoms, who wants a girlfriend, who wants a normal family life and upbringing. I'm always interested to see how guys would respond to reading a book written by a woman, but in the perspective of a teenage boy. Since I'm not a guy I can only say for myself, but I think the voice was really well established and believable. I definitely empathised with him and by the end of the story I felt exhausted for him and all that he had to go through.

Family is, unsurprisingly, a big part of this novel. We see a family that is barely keeping it together, on the verge of collapse. Rosa has been a constant source of stress and worry, seemingly for Che more than anyone else, but he's the one she speaks to. She trusts him. She needs him, because no one else understands her. What we see is a tumultuous relationship between brother and sister. Che wants to see only the good in her... the memory of her little baby fingers wrapped around his own pop up more than one time in the story. This brutally honest book begs you to question your own values and beliefs, and I was left wondering how I would respond if I were placed in the same situation. Dwelling on it for too long would put me in a debilitating state of deflated hopelessness. To even think that there are people out there who actually have to live with psychopaths... I can barely even swallow the thought.

I liked the interactions between Che and his Sydney friends, too. Especially Georgie. But the budding friendship that he develops with Leilani in New York City is particularly special. You can tell that their bond goes far beyond friendship, or even lovers. It's almost as though they are platonic soulmates, they go through so much together. I loved that Che's texts "I miss you" to her. I feel like that phrase it too often placed with strictly romantic connotations behind it. Theirs is the kind of friendship that stimulates growth and ongoing support. We're left with a sad but hopeful note between the two of them. I feel like it is a very rare occurrence where I truly feel strongly towards a friendship in a book.

Now.... Sojourner.... She's tall, strong, smart and beautiful. She catches his eye right from the start and somehow they become good friends with the potential for more. I did feel like their connection was a bit shallow, but really, at this age most relationships are. :P They just find each other really attractive. There's such a contrast between his relationship with her, to his friendship with Leilani. Rightly so, but it does leave me with an important message, even if my situation isn't exactly the same as Che's: communication and honesty is key. Another thing... Sojourner and her mums are religious and Che is not, but they're the "cool" kind of religious in that lesbians are great and sex before marriage isn't a sin. I don't know too much about religion so I don't know if her actual branch of Christianity is actually a thing, but if so, it's one that I could get behind. Not often do I find religion to be even so much as mentioned in a book so this was a nice change. I feel like Justine Larbalestier tried to push the boundaries -- boxers AREN'T violent; some girls want to fight and they can still be beautiful; not all Christians are against homosexuality; etc; etc.

There are just so many important messages and themes addressed in <i>My Sister Rosa</i>. I feel like this is one that I will need to reread, simply so I can go back and analyse more closely; look for the signs early on. If you've read the book I'm sure you share the same urges. It is so hard to write about this book without feeling like I'm spoiling things. It's much better just to go into this book without knowing anything about it, but I assure you - you won't be disappointed.


AUSTRALIA: A&R | Booktopia


I have received this review copy in return for an honest review.

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