Book Review: Gemini, Sonya Mukherjee (2016)

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Two Paws Up!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss. This review contains minor/vague spoilers!)

When I was younger, if I couldn’t sleep, I would mentally trace the stars of the Gemini constellation. Dad had taught us to find it when we were as young as six or seven, keeping us up late on certain clear winter nights, when Gemini would be easiest to spot. He didn’t know that much about constellations, but for some reason he needed us to memorize every part of those glittering, dazzling twins, so close to each other that they formed a single constellation. So we would bundle up in sweaters and jackets and follow him outside with our kid-size astronomy books and the star maps that he’d printed out. We would find Orion or the Big Dipper and use them to trace our way over to the bright stars Castor and Pollux, and from there we’d find the rest of Gemini.

For Dad it was all about the timeless beauty of those twins and their love for each other, which was more important to them than life itself. He couldn’t have known how for me it would be just the starting point to falling in love with all the stars. […]

But at some point I started worrying about Gemini, the celestial twins. Were they glad to spend billions of years together in the sky, always on display, or would they rather wander apart and explore?

“You keep saying ‘we,’” Clara said sharply. “You know, you don’t always have to speak in the first person plural. Some of us have to. But you don’t.”

“Don’t you ever want to be free of me?” I asked. There was a long silence, filled with nothing but the sounds of our almost-synchronized breathing. Almost synchronized, but not quite. “I want to be free,” she said finally. “But not free of you.”

Seventeen-year-old Clara and Hailey are conjoined twins: pygopagus, like Violet and Daisy Hilton, who were also joined at the back. (Or, more accurately, the butt.) They have completely separate upper halves, as well as two pairs of legs and feet, but share the lower half of a spinal column. When Clara kicks an oversharing Hailey in the shin, she feels the pain too.

In many ways, Clara and Hailey are like any other high school girls. Raised in Bear Pass – a tiny rural town in the California mountains – Hailey longs to travel the world. She wants to gaze out on Paris from atop the Eiffel Tower; spend hours contemplating art at the Louvre; and show her paintings at big city galleries. She wants more than her tiny little hometown can possibly give her. As lovely as it may be, who is Hailey to judge when she’s nothing to compare it to?

The more anxiety-prone of the two, Clara finds the familiarity and security of Bear Pass more comforting than stifling. She’s accepted her mother’s plan for her life: four years at nearby Sutter College, where Dad’s tenured professorship will score the twins free tuition. Yet the closest Sutter comes to meeting her academic interests is environmental sciences – a far cry from physics and astronomy – and their film program isn’t exactly a great match for Hailey’s painting, either. And every now and again, as she gazes up at the stars, Clara also feels the pull of the universe, so wide and vast. The arrival of Max, the capital-C-Cute new guy from LA, doesn’t exactly help either.

With graduation barreling down on them, which path will Clara and Hailey choose? And in the meantime, who on earth will they ask to the Sadie Hawkins dance?

(More below the fold…)

Book Review: One, Sarah Crossan (2015)

Monday, September 14th, 2015

One of the Loveliest Books You’ll Read This Year

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

When conjoined twins are separated,
it’s deemed a success so
long as one of them lives.
For a while.

And that,
to me,
is the saddest thing
I know about how
people see us.

Sixteen-year-old Grace and Tippi are ischiopagus tripus conjoined twins. Fused at the lower halves of their bodies, they look perfectly “normal” – beautiful even – from the waist up (as Grace wistfully notes on at least one occasion). They have two heads, two hearts, two sets of lungs and kidneys, four arms, and a pair of fully functioning legs between them. Their intestines begin apart, and then merge; below that, they are one.

Summer is coming to a close, and their parents have just announced that they’ll be attending school – for the first time ever – in September. Up until now, the girls have been homeschooled at their apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, where they live with their parents; their paternal grandmother; and their younger sister, Nicola (“Dragon”). But the donations have dried up, and the state will only offer financial assistance if they attend a private school. And so it is they come to begin their junior year in Hornbeacon High School in nearby Montclair.

If you think you know where the story’s headed from here, join the club. I expected One to be a story about bullying, at least at the outset. And while Grace and Tippi do encounter no small amount of fear, hostility, and tactlessness – not just from their fellow classmates, but also teachers, neighbors, shopkeepers, extended family, and even their own doctors, who flaunt them like a medical exhibit – their transition to Hornbeacon goes surprisingly well.

(More below the fold…)