Well, after seeing this book all over bookstagram after its recent publication, and with a title that intriguing, I knew I was going to have to read it. So, I added my name to the “holds” list at the library. Three months later this (adorably tiny) book was ready for me to pick up!
“You have to choose a side, and my lot was cast long ago. She will always have me and I will always have her; no one else matters.”
Korede and Ayoola are sisters. Korede, as the oldest, has always been responsible for taking care of her younger sister. The shape this takes had morphed over the years, but it’s always been an important part of their relationship. Recently though, things have started to take a turn for the dark. Ayoola is gorgeous, has men fawning over her everywhere she goes, and…has a knack for killing the ones she chooses to date. Although the first time(s) may have been in self-defense, Korede is starting to think that her sister is enjoying the killing. And Korede is starting to struggle herself, with the emotional toll of cleaning up after her. So when Ayoola sets her dating sights on a man Korede has feelings for, she faces a big decision: expose her sister to try and save the man’s life or continue to protect her sister as she has always done.
For such a short, small, novel, this story really packs a punch. You are dumped into it from the very first page when Ayoola calls Korede to help clean up the mess from her third murder. And it really never lets up. There is a twisted, dark-humor, compellingly creepy feel to the entire read, which is crazy because it’s also written in a way that makes the murders and clean-up seem so normal and commonplace. I don’t know how the author managed both at the same time, but it totally worked. The short chapters, which allowed for constant jumping around in Korede (our narrator’s) thoughts and actions we perfect for this type of story-telling as well. I think it really matched the way her own mind was getting through the days.
As far as Korede and Ayoola…I have never had a sister, so I really enjoyed reading about their relationship. Even though it wasn’t perfect (obviously), and there was competition and selfishness and the excessive lying/law-breaking, the way that they each relied on (and acted to protect) each other in their own ways was fascinating. I felt like the author did a wonderful job showing the genuineness of sisterhood – the mix of good and bad, all the frustration and anger that ultimately don’t matter in the face of a greater bond. Of course, while this is an extreme example, facetious even, I still felt the depth that was there. (Relatedly, I cannot believe how the story ended! I mean we know what happens, in general, because we see the path Ayoola’s life takes. But in line with the morbidity of the book, I was dying – punny, I know – for more details. Still, I objectively appreciate how much more powerful it is to let us use our imaginations, truly. Basically, high fives to the author for a spectacular way to close things out at the end…or open them up, if you will.)
Another thing I really liked was that, since the story is told from Korede’s perspective, we also get a little more regarding what she is experiencing internally, as opposed to Ayoola. And what we got was great. Her struggle with how to handle her sister’s spiraling murderous tendencies and the overall mental cost of her not being able to speak with/confide in anyone about what she’d done to cover it all up was explored urgently and movingly. I know one of the biggest complaints I’ve seen about this debut is that it was too short to really develop as much as people wanted, especially in regards to character insights/growth. I can see that, especially in this context of Korede’s mental/emotional state, and I would have enjoyed it. I also think it would have made the story/characters stick with me longer, and on a more profound level (since while this book totally entertained me, I don’t think it’s going to leave a long term mark on my memory). However, at the same time, I think that would have made this a completely different book. It would have become more of a psychological/relationship thriller or introspection type novel, as opposed to the darkly humorous social commentary and sweetly(?) twisted sisterly support novel that it was. And I enjoyed it the way it was as well.
This is a fascinating and wonderful and completely unique story. For all its darkness and ugliness, topically, there is something about it that makes you overlook all that and, honestly, start cheering for Ayoola to keep on killing and Ayoola/Korede to keep in getting away with it. This was a fast, fun, fully entertaining reading experience, distinctive from any I’ve had before, and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for future works from Braithwaite.