This book was lent to me by my friends mum as an unusual read. I had seen a BBC documentary about Lori and Reba Schappell some years ago and so I was interested to give this book a try.
This novel is a fictional account of the lives of Rosie and Ruby Darlen, who are writing down their unusual life. They are the oldest living Craniopagus conjoined twins, so they are joined by the head and unable to be separated because of a shared essential vein. Other than that they are totally seperate people, different bodies, different brains, different personalities. Rosie wants to be a writer and so it is her voice that we hear for the first third of the book, telling their story through her eyes. She believes that their unusual story should be told, about how their mother abandoned them at birth, and how they were adopted by Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, a kind and loving couple with no children of their own. Rosie tells us about their condition (Ruby has 2 club feet so has to be carried by her sister), their childhood on a Canadian farm, their closeness as sisters, and their relationship to their adoptive parents and their own story.
Ruby is coerced by her sister to include her own parts for the joint biography, and here the book takes on a new dimension, not just because we have a new voice, but there are some things that Rosie has chosen not to tell us. The sisters will not read each others writings until the book is complete.
It took me a little while to get my head around the fact that this book is fictional because I felt like I was reading a true story. It is very easy to read and I was engrossed quite quickly. It was when Ruby's voice came into it that realised I was completely attached to these sisters and I cared a lot about them. Each of them wheedle their way into your imagination with their stories, and their humourous encounters with other people. Some of their descriptions of peoples reactions had me laughing out loud. I was equally touched by their relationship to their kind and wise adoptive parents who bring them up in a world of love.
There are quite a few pre-emptive sections to warn you of something sad to come, and when it did I cried my eyes out. I can still get a lump in my throat when I think of it now. But this is in no way a depressing or self-indulgent story. It is inspiring, moving, funny and entertaining. It is about the closeness of families and a unique sisterly bond, and about being different. There is also a lot to say about identity, dependence and independence.
I really enjoyed reading this book and it surprised me by how attached I became to Rosie and Ruby. There were a few times along the way I had to remind myself that the were conjoined. Towards the end of the book Rosie says,
'It's easy for Nick (a friend) to say it doesn't matter if my story is ever read. He says, "Just that you wrote it Rosie, let that be enough." But I want more. So much more. I want this collection of words to transform themselves into visions of Ruby and me. I want to be remembered like long-ago friends.'
Lori Lansens certainly manages this with a skillfully written book that brings the twins to life.
For a Reading group guide for The Girls click the link