My sister Rosa: Book review

Book Review: My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

What is this about: Che, his family, and his determination to keep his psychopathic sister, Rosa, under control. Or rather, the rest of the world safe from Rosa.

What else is this about: Che himself. This is a portrait of a teenager learning about himself and his family. He thinks of the world in black and white, and is blind to everything else.

Should you read it: Oh yes! YES.

Stars: 4/5

Blurb: What if the most terrifying person you’d ever met was your ten-year old sister? A spine-chilling psychological thriller from one of Australia’s finest YA authors.

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

I can’t see the loophole. Since the guinea pig there’s been nothing. Months now without Rosa killing as much as a mosquito.

As far as I know.

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?

My Sister Rosa will have you on the edge of your seat from the very first page to the last.

We are introduced to Che and his family on their arrival to New York and their family’s umpteenth move for work. Very quickly, it becomes clear that Che’s life revolves around protecting the world from Rosa, and trying in vain to teach her how to control herself. But, as the book progresses, we see too that Che is at a stage of his life where he wants more than being Rosa’s keeper — he wants things for himself, as he should.

But, Rosa is always there in the back of his mind.

My Sister Rosa is … chilling. Rosa is the perfect little girl by all appearances — ringlets and all — and you would find yourself marvelling at her beauty should you ever see her in the street. The thing with Rosa is she knows it, and if she latches onto you, she’ll probably figure out a way to harm you or manipulate you into doing something you shouldn’t — much like she does in this book.

She also knows Che — knows he’s always going to be watching her, trying to teach her how to be normal and she has no problems using that to her advantage. For all that Che is afraid of Rosa, I was left with the impression she does love him in her own way. The author has managed to create a character who is disturbing and compelling at the same time, wrapped in a picture perfect package.

The story though is Che’s: we see him struggle to make friends in New York, to find a place where he can belong and to build a relationship that is his. We and he get glimpses of the normal life he could have were Rosa normal, and were he not her big brother and saddled with a conscience. No matter how hard he tries, Rosa casts a very long shadow over him and his attempts to build something away from her.

The book is delivered in short, sharp sentences creating an increasing tension through the story. I turned every page sure that Rosa would be doing something or someone harm. It also creates the impression that Che is always on edge, wary of everything Rosa does — and sure she’s going to hurt someone soon. He’s often not wrong.

Their parents play a big part of this narrative, which isn’t always the case in YA books like this. In the beginning, they’re wrapped up in their own world, trying to figure out things in New York without losing their jobs. Little by little, the author reveals part of them bringing them into a narrative that you would have thought was Che and Rosa’s entirely.

You’re going to worry for Che, you’re going to empathise with him and wish he could have everything he wants, but can’t. In the end, the book is a sleight of hand and impressive for the natural way Justine Larbalestier reveals the ending. She plays with your assumptions about the characters and the narrative that has just drawn you in and wrung you out.

Read this and be ready to throw your assumptions out the window.

10 Comments

  • Oh wow, I MUST read this book! I’d never heard of it til just now, but yeah – right up my alley. I love books (or films) to do with creepy little psychotic children, I just can’t help it! In fact, one of my very favourite movies is The Bad Seed from 1956 – the little girl in that movie is the ultimate when it comes to this genre. I’ll have to see if I can get my hands on a copy of this book.

  • I haven’t read anything by this author, and I know i need too. I read one other review for this one. It sounds fantastic though. I seriously need to get my hands on a copy. Thanks for sharing!!

    -Lauren

  • I’ve seen this one around before and it looks absolutely riveting! I’m so eager to read it. Thanks for the review! Glad you enjoyed it 😉

  • I’ve never even heard of this book, but it does sound interesting even if it isn’t my usual read. Rosa definitely sounds incredibly creepy! I’m glad you loved it! 😀

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

    • Verushka says:

      It is creepy, but it’s so much more like a pscychological creepy, that I totally adored. IT’s such a fine balance and the author does it so well!

  • Holy shit this is my perfect book, because if you don’t know this about me yet (ha!) psych thrillers feed my soul, and creepy children creep me out, and I mean, the best thing to go into them with is knowing as much to nothing as you can (so glad there’s no spoilers!) but am super curious about that ending now, so see ya, I’m looking on The Book Depo now. 😉

    • Verushka says:

      OH YOU ARE GOING TO LOVE THIS! Rosa is chilling and AHHHH I am so holding myself back. The build up to the ending was so subtle I was like what, that happened?! But also, it’s not a twist and then the book is over, the author explores what this means a little. ARGH. Read it and then come flail with me!

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