My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

‘No sooner did Rosa start talking than she started lying.’

Seventeen-year-old Che Taylor and his family move to New York.  It’s the latest in a series of moves the family has made, and Che would really rather go home.  But there are things important to Che as well, there are four items on his list: he wants to keep Rosa under control; improve his boxing; get a girlfriend and return home to Sydney.  And, while different sections of the novel address each of Che’s goals, they overlap.  Rosa is Che’s ten-year-old sister.  She’s cute but she has an antisocial personality disorder.   Rosa is callous, charming, fearless and manipulative, and Rosa has no empathy for others. In other words, Rosa is a psychopath.

Che seems to be the only member of his family that understands how serious Rosa’s condition might be.  She teases him with by talking about some of her worst desires and plans, and their parents will not listen to him.  Even though, apparently, Rosa recently manipulated Apinya, one of her friends, into killing her pet guinea pig.

So, while Che tries to keep Rosa under control, he’s also trying to find his own space in the world.  Che’s journey of self-discovery is an important aspect of this novel: he learns about sex (with enthusiasm), about fashion (with reluctance), embraces competitive boxing and makes some new friends while also keeping in touch with some of his previous friends via text.  His new friends include Leilani, Sojourner and Elon.  In the meantime, Rosa continues to push the boundaries.  She makes friends with one of the twin daughters of her parents’ employers, and succeeds in isolating the other twin.  Che is worried, but he extracts a promise from Rosa:

‘I promise,’ she said. ‘I won’t kill and I won’t make anyone else kill.’

Can Che trust her?  And will his parents ever ‘get it’?

I enjoyed this novel immensely.  I felt sorry for Che as he battles to keep Rosa under control, and happy for him as he finds new friends (many of whom have their own issues to contend with).  As you might expect, there are a couple of twists in this story.  Although one of the twists annoyed me it makes its own perfect sense in the story as Ms Larbalestier has written it.

Worth reading?  Absolutely.  This is young adult fiction with an edge.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2016

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