With My Sister Rosa, Larbalestier brings us a novel that starts out as a quirky family story with a cast of intriguing and likeable characters (even the titular pyschopath), but which quickly races into psychological thriller territory that meets and beats The Silence of the Lambs for suspense — it's the kind of book that had me literally gasping aloud as it rattled to its incredible conclusion.
In the aftermatter, Larbalestier describes the book as an updating of William March's 1955 novel The Bad Seed, about a beautiful, charming child who turns out to be a murderer. But March's book was about people being "born bad," while Larbalestier's narrator, Che, is a budding neuroscientist who frames his sister's chilling behavior in the context of brain physiology, environment, and heredity, connecting her cruelty and manipulation with his grandfather and uncle's viciousness.
Like many of Larbalestier's stories, this one features Australians getting to know New York City (Larbalestier splits her time between Sydney and NYC), and her ability to both romance and critique the city brings it to life in a way that is sure to appeal to the kinds of smart teens (and adults) who daydream about a life in Manhattan.
Another familiar Larbalestian theme, love, is central to this novel, as Che's own love for his baby sister, and the love of the New York family she sets out to ruin, and his love for the mysterious girl he meets at the boxing gym, and her love for her own family and their religion all swirl together, showing that love, as much as hate, can drive people to terrible outcomes.
This is a book that will linger with you, a book that's every bit as much about evil as The Bad Seed ever was, but also a book about fierce loyalty and the grinding, slow trauma of caring for someone whose flaws you're all too aware of.
If you want to be disquieted, delighted and disturbed all at the same time, this is the book for you.
My Sister Rosa [Justine Larbalestier/Soho Teen]