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The False Sister: Briar Ripley Page - a book review

Brilliant, intelligent and heart-wrenching. This story delivers a punch in the gut to anyone who didn’t manage to live up to their parents’ expectations.

At the tender age of twelve, Jesse is torn from his home in the city and brought to a small town where it seems impossible for a young autistic boy to make new friends. But at least he still has his older sister, Crys, a moody and difficult daughter as far as their parents are concerned, but also a loving sister and fierce advocate for Jesse. Then one night she vanishes.

Jesse believes his sister is dead. Even when Crys returns home, she seems so different, so strange, that he’d sooner believe in pod-people than accept this teenager who calls herself Crystal is really his sister. His parents had seemed strangely unconcerned while Crys was missing, and now they welcome the imposter into their home without question, fawning over her new feminine appearance and good manners. Jesse despairs that he will never be able to get them to accept the truth.

I was hugely impressed by this novella. The twelve-year-old narrator’s voice was childlike but never childish. The sentences were mainly short with simple structures, and the words used felt as though they belonged in any intelligent young person’s vocabulary. That Page could maintain this style without the rhythm becoming repetitive, is a testament to their talent.

Briar Riley Page does an amazing job of portraying the fluidity and uncertainty of many teenagers’ and tweens’ sense of identity while exploring the myriad of experiences and things that may or may not feel erotic depending on context. This treacherous ground is navigated in a way that feels appropriate for young adult readers as well as those whose adolescence is, thankfully, a distant nightmare.

Jesse’s dreams and encounters with his neighbour display a growing awareness of his own burgeoning sexuality, but perhaps because of the gulf between him and his peers, he is able to probe and wrestle with these new discoveries free from outside interference.

The False Sister is both an effective horror story and a Bildungsroman where the main character comes face to face with the unimaginable, learns to accept and appreciate the diversity of human experience, and realises that the adults who are supposed to protect them are more concerned about their status in the community and what their neighbours think.

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