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My Sister Damien

Sisters can be terrible, but the ones who might be actual psychopaths are definitely the worst.

My Sister Damien

BOOK REPORT for My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Cover Story: Rorschachish
BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia
Swoonworthy Scale: 3
Talky Talk: On the (Aussie) Edge
Bonus Factors: LGTBQ, Religion
Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Parents
Relationship Status: Strained

Cover Story: Rorschachish

I know that the cover isn’t actually a Rorschach test, since it’s not made of ink blots, but the pieces of foliage (I think) that make up the image certainly have that Rorschach feeling.

I see a butterfly. What do you see?

The Deal:

Che Taylor is a member of a family made up of himself, two activist parents who travel the world starting business that help the disadvantaged, and Rosa, his 10-year-old sister who might be a literal psychopath. Che’s parent’s don’t see Rosa for what she truly is, and are often too busy with their business(es) to care—about either of them—so Che finds himself acting as Rosa’s keeper.

When the family moves to New York City, Che worries that Rosa will find more ways to act out in the city that never sleeps. But he struggles with wanting to keep her under control and wanting to live his life. No matter which path he chooses, however, someone’s likely to get hurt.

BFF Charm: Natalie Imbruglia

Che, although the name might suggest otherwise, is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid from Australia. His parents are odd; not only did they name him after Che Guevara, but also they want Rosa and him to call them by their first names. Their lack of parental interest, the family’s tendencies to move all over the world at the drop of a hat, plus Che’s dedication to keeping his sister in line makes for a guy who seems way older than his 17 years. He’s also a talented boxer and a loyal friend. On the surface, Che seems like a really great guy. But I just didn’t like him all that much, even with his wealth of good qualities.

Swoonworthy Scale: 3

Che falls—nearly immediately—for a girl he meets at his new boxing gym in New York. I won’t say much more so that I don’t spoil what happens/doesn’t happen between the two, but I didn't really feel it.

Talky Talk: On the (Aussie) Edge

From the very start, My Sister Rosa is a tense read. Through Che, Justine Larbalestier lets readers know early on about Rosa’s possibly psychopathy, and so the entire reading experience is colored with the tension that she’ll eventually do more than lie to her parents or charm someone into doing her bidding. She’s a precious, precocious child who has the looks of Shirley Temple but the temperament of a criminal mastermind. I felt stressed while reading; I can only imagine how Che feels every day of his life. That said, there wasn’t much to the plot of the book. It was slow to build, and took an unexpected turn at the end, but I don’t feel like much actually happened.

On a different note, I appreciate that Larbalestier decided to not Americanize the language of the book; Che thinks and speaks with Australian spelling and terms. She wrote about this decision in a note at the start of the novel, saying “We decided against Americanizing Che’s voice because we wanted readers to be able to experience his story in his own authentic voice.” I think this definitely adds to the realistic feel of the book.

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Larbalestier has included a variety of non-cisgender, non-straight characters in My Sister Rosa, but they’re not used as tropes or “for diversity’s sake.” Two characters are lesbians, another has two mothers, one identifies as neither a girl nor a boy. It’s a great mix of characters that feel true to the urban, New York City setting.

Bonus Factor: Religion

I’m not a religious person, but I do believe in the power of faith and respect anyone who believes strongly in religion. I don’t, however, agree with the view that there is only one right way to have faith or only one thing to believe in. The religious aspects of My Sister Rosa aren’t an integral part of the story, but I very much appreciate how open and understanding religion is portrayed in the book.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Awful Parents

Che and Rosa’s parents aren’t the only terrible ones in the book, and it’s always a little heartbreaking to read about such neglectful people. Thankfully, they’re not abusive or cruel, they’re just selfish and probably shouldn’t have had children.

Casting Call:

Mitchell Hope as Che

Relationship Status: Strained

Our time together wasn’t easy, Book, nor was it exactly pleasant. But I really do want the best for you. I just don’t think I’m the right person to give you what you need.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Soho Teen, but got neither a private dance party with Tom Hiddleston nor money in exchange for this review. My Sister Rosa is available now.

Mandy Curtis's photo About the Author: Mandy is a small town girl living in a nerdy world, or—if you want to get literal—an editor/writer living in Austin, TX. In addition to yearning for YA books—the more dystopian or fantastical, the better—she can also be found swooning over superheroes, dreaming of The Doctor and grinning at GIFs.
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