My Sister Rosa - Justine Larbalestier

Che Taylor has four items on his list:

1. He wants to spar, not just train in the boxing gym.
2. He wants a girlfriend.
3. He wants to go home.
4. He wants to keep Rosa under control.
Che's little sister Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and so good at deception that Che's convinced she must be a psychopath. She hasn't hurt anyone yet, but he's certain it's just a matter of time. And when their parents move them to New York City, Che longs to return to Sydney and his three best friends. But his first duty is to his sister Rosa, who is playing increasingly complex and disturbing games. Can he protect Rosa from the world - and the world from Rosa?

This is a creepy ass book! The horrifying little sister is enough to make your skin crawl, and the fact that her parents never seem to see her as anything but an innocent child is so frustrating, and yet entirely believable. The exploration of trust, lies, and the blurred boundaries of believability. Che's parents are ignorant of Rosa's lies and the only ones who seem to believe Che about her deviousness are Maya (an eleven year old girl) and Leilana, though she doesn't quite see Rosa's uncanniness as anything sinister.

Discussions of race and religion within the novel are important and incredibly relevant among discussions of diversity in literature for young readers. There are Korean-American characters, African-American characters, lesbian parents, a gender nonconforming character, and a parent with multiple sclerosis. And the best part is that none of the characters feel stereotypically constructed or tokenistic.

Perhaps the one part that left me feeling unsure was halfway through when Che meets Elon; in the process of coming to term's with Elon's non-gendered identity, Che uses terminology that some might consider offensive (he/she, her/his). While I understand the use of such terms by those who are not fully educated in gender issues, I know Larbalestier's work on race and gender online, and so I feel that this doesn't quite work. At least later on there is more nuanced discussion and the situation resolves itself in terms of Che and Rosa understanding Elon's decision not to identify using male, female, or plural pronouns.

This novel is suspenseful, the pacing is strong, and Larbalestier's writing is gripping, and the twist near the end is wonderfully satisfactory (though not entirely resolved, which is great!) Anyone who knows her previous work will not be surprised by My Sister Rosa's strengths. On the whole, I appreciate Larbalestier's work and the general creepiness of the novel, and I definitely Highly Recommend this novel for fans of thrillers and just plain disturbing narratives.

(NOTE: This review is from an Advance Reading Copy - Out Nov. 2016 in North America)


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