True Sisters by Keren David: Review
✨ My rating: ★★★★
Publisher: Barrington Stoke
Published: 15 August 2018
Page count: 125
Reading age: 8 • Interest age: Teen
Genres: young adult, contemporary ✨
Ruby has had a lot of foster siblings over the years, but none of them have been anything like Clara. After growing up in almost complete isolation, Clara is distraught at being separated from her mother and overwhelmed by life in a world she doesn't understand. But the more Ruby tries to help Clara fit in, the more she realises she has to face up to some struggles of her own.
❥ My Review
Wow, this book was so precious.
I was honestly really surprised by how much I enjoyed True Sisters - I rarely read novellas as I always feel like there’s a barrier between myself and the story, primarily because I just can’t form a strong connection with characters whose journey is over in under 200 pages. But while I wouldn’t necessarily say I was totally immersed and invested in this particularly story, there was something about it that really hit my emotions hard, and that’s always what I’m looking for in YA. (I like being sad).
For a 125 page book, I was blown away by the amount of diversity in its cast. It was almost overwhelming (in a good way). We have Ruby who is mixed-race and a lesbian, her step-brother Adam who is gay, a minor character named Hasaan who moved from Syria as a refugee as well as two more asylum seekers from Afghanistan, and finally Clara’s mother who is hospitalized for a trauma-like mental illness (although this is not actually stated, only implied). However, I did feel as though a few of these characters - in particular, Adam - became very much defined by their marginalization. For example, for me it seemed Adam’s role in the story revolved almost solely around the fact he was part of the LGBTQ+ community and how this made him an abnormal seventeen year old in the eyes of his classmates. It was nice to see a boy with an interest in hairdressing as well as a focus on homophobia in schools, but there were aspects of Adam’s character that felt a little stereotypical and I think the issue of bullying could have been tackled a bit more than it was.
There were also many other important themes touched upon: feeling like you can’t come out just because you aren’t in a relationship, being unrequitedly in love with your best friend, the anxiety that comes with not succeeding at your biggest passion, accepting that everybody comes from their own backgrounds, having divorced parents and even more friendship and family dynamics. It gave me such a great insight into the foster care system, particularly what it’s like to be a foster parent or the child of a foster parent (like Ruby) but it was Clara’s character that I found the most fascinating. Having to come to terms with the fact that the people biologically closest to you can still cause you damage is a very hard thing to digest at the age of fifteen, and the way she comes to terms with her situation is gradual but tinged with hope.
❝ There’s the family you’re born into, and there’s the one you make for yourself.❞
Keren David also explores the effect of domestic violence on children. When a mother becomes so untrusting of the world and completely withdraws from it, they can often lose sight of how harmful this isolation is for their children, a problem which was clearly demonstrated through Clara and Anna’s situation. It was so uplifting to see Clara make friends who dealt with a similar isolation, whose language she can't even speak but this doesn’t even matter to them because they’re all equally discovering the world around them - the very simplest things that we take for granted, like what Topshop is like or how a phone works or looking up to a sky full of stars instead of the same ceiling. The integration of the subtle references to Shakespeare and Frida Khalo also had the nerd inside of me rejoicing.
I took away a star because for me I felt like everything wrapped up just a little too perfectly and ultimately it didn’t feel entirely realistic. While of course I want these characters to be happy and for things to turn out okay, as I mentioned earlier I like to be sad and I think this would maybe have been more impactful if it had been a bit more bittersweet, or if there were more complications in the way so that there's more of a journey to go on. I also have to say that Ruby’s narrative and response to certain situations had me really irritated at times (especially how she tried to force Clara to have a makeover just because she thought she didn’t look ‘normal’), but I guess it did challenge me as a reader to some extent and exposed me to new circumstances.
Overall, True Sisters was a wonderful YA novella packed with more topical discussion points than many full-length novels - and, as is the case with all Barrington Stoke books, was super readable!