My Sister Rosa
by Justine Larbaleister
Publication Date: November 15 2016
Length: 312 pages
Obtained Via: Borrowed from the library
Publisher: Soho Teen
View at the Traffic light:
Seventeen-year-old Aussie Che Taylor loves his younger sister, Rosa. But he’s also certain that she’s a diagnosable psychopath—clinically, threateningly, dangerously. Recently Rosa has been making trouble, hurting things. Che is the only one who knows; he’s the only one his sister trusts. Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and very good at hiding what she is and the violence she’s capable of.
Their parents, whose business takes the family from place to place, brush off the warning signs as Rosa’s “acting out.” Now that they have moved again—from Bangkok to New York City—their new hometown provides far too many opportunities for Rosa to play her increasingly complex and disturbing games. Alone, Che must balance his desire to protect Rosa from the world with the desperate need to protect the world from her.
My Sister Rosa has so many aspects I should love. I’m always looking for new YA thrillers, and I’ve read very few I haven’t at least enjoyed a little. But part of why this book didn’t really work for me is because it’s not really a thriller–it’s a YA contemporary that’s trying to be a thriller. Again, I love YA contemporary, so if I had known so much of the book was focused on a coming-of-age story and romance going in, I might have considered it differently. But there was nothing thrilling in My Sister Rosa. Nothing frightening or scary, and especially not in a psychological sense. It’s pretty clear that Rosa isn’t like a normal ten-year-old, but she’s also so over-the-top with her absolute lack of empathy that it ends up feeling matter-of-fact by the end of the first third of the book. I think that’s where perception was supposed to play in–balancing what main character Che and the reader know about Rosa versus how everyone is so easily charmed by her. But that reaction got tiring after the first couple of meetings.
My Sister Rosa does not read much like a thriller. The main bulk of the plot is a lot of standard stuff: Che getting interested in a girl, adjusting to a new country, and Che boxing(boxing is Che’s main hobby, which is fine! I love reading books about characters with all sorts of different interests, even if I wouldn’t want to do that. But there was so much boxing in this book, and I could never think of it as anything but boring, even when it was used to contrast Rosa’s emotional violence with a controlled, safe, physical “violence”). None of that on its own would make me disinterested in a book, but in My Sister Rosa I felt the plot came across as episodic, and not intentionally.
I also found the book completely predictable. Because this book is a psychological thriller, I expect it to have a plot twist. And there definitely were a few twists, but I saw every. single. one. of them coming. As I was reading, I could literally point at specific lines and think, “Yes, this is foreshadowing a twist about a specific event or person,” and I was right every time. I read enough psychological thrillers that I’m good at guessing twists, but this went beyond that–at no point did I ever doubt that I knew exactly what was going to happen. And I was right. And even though Che was supposed to contrast Rosa’s lack of empathy with his own emotions, the emotionally tone fell really flat for me. Even when Che was obviously upset, I found it hard to care as a reader.
It’s unfortunate I found most of the plot boring, because there’s a lot of small aspects of My Sister Rosa that I really valued. One of the characters, Sojourner, is the daughter of a lesbian pastor, and the way her religious affiliation was portrayed was really nuanced and without being preachy. The supporting cast was also diverse, and there was a non-binary side character who, while I can’t personally speak to the rep, seemed to be written really well. I also liked how the book portrayed sexuality and the frank discussion Sojourner and Che have about condoms, etc. f only this book had lived up to its creepy promise, I could have really loved it.
There were a few narrative choices and side characters I liked, but on the whole My Sister Rosa fell flat with me. I enjoyed all the side characters so much better than the main ones, and while Rosa was indeed disturbing, it was too predictable to really grab me. 2/5 cupcakes.