My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

What’s it like having no fear?

Scary for everyone you meet.

Che’s family is unusual. His parents are entrepreneurs travelling the world with their business ventures, his grandparents are filthy rich, and his little sister is a psychopath. He’s not sure which of these are worse, but he has his friends, his boxing, and he thinks he can keep 10 year old Rosa under control.

Rosa’s never been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder because she games every doctor and counsellor she meets. Her family knows she has developmental issues, hence the doctors, but only Che knows she ticks all the boxes on the psychopathy checklist.

Che regularly asks Rosa to promise never to hurt anyone. She keeps her promises by finding loopholes and thinks she deserves a reward for being so good.

“I should get to do one tiny bad thing.”

When Che’s family relocates to New York for the latest business venture, he makes a list of four goals:

  1. Keep Rosa under control
  2. I want to spar
  3. I want a girlfriend
  4. I want to go home

How hard can it be? With Rosa’s sneaky ways, the parental’s not such great parenting skills and new friends who don’t understand the family dynamic, very.

Justine Larbalestier is masterful at the art of ratcheting up the tension and the twists (three, four, I lost count) are shocking in their horror. I knew something was lurking as the tension seeped into my bones but more than once my heart stopped as I turned the page. I began to suspect one of the twists, then thought my suspicions unfounded. I forgot it, and got another shock when the twist jumped out again, worse than I suspected.

Lies and misunderstanding add to the confusion. Rosa insists she never lies, but is that a lie? There’s a tinge of unreliable narration, nothing like Liar because Che doesn’t lie, but the reader joins Che in discovering some awful revelations. About Rosa, about nature vs nurture, whether empathy can be learnt, and what exactly is evil.

Astred Hicks designed the deceptive cover, all innocence and childlike beauty. Really not a good idea to judge this book by its cover, but the muted tones hint at smudges in the idyll. Astred Hicks must know hand written fonts get me every time, I had to keep flicking back to the section headings. This isn’t the title page, Rosa signed my copy. No honey, you can’t have a dog, I don’t care if you didn’t kill your pretend one.

My Sister Rosa

I’m trying really hard to keep my spoilers to myself but the question of nature vs nurture is making my task intolerable. Justine Larbalestier’s themes are riddled with the worst of humanity, side by side with the mundane minutiae of getting the hottest boxer in the gym to like you. I look forward to where her poisonous pen takes us next. I hear it’s more fun with psychopaths.