Some readers will be attracted to My Sister the Serial Killer due to its captivating cover, others will automatically be drawn in by the compelling words “serial killer” in the title. Still others will be curious about a book written by a new author who has received many positive reviews. Regardless, all those who pick up Oyinkan Braithwaite’s short novel will be richly rewarded for the experience. Set in Lagos, Nigeria this book is less of a true thriller and more of a literary gem with an edge. The author tells a tale about women’s roles and the familial responsibilities assigned to them by cultural expectations and external assessments of worth. Two sides of one coin, Korede and Ayoola are sisters that complement each other as archetypes. Korede, a nurse, is the older sister-plain and serious. She is the prototypical protector and responsible one of the two. Ayoola is the carefree beauty who has come to expect all the attention and privilege that her looks have always engendered. The book’s short chapters flash back and forth in time, exploring the women’s troubled upbringing and the genesis of their predictably symbiotic relationship. A bit more unusual is the development that Ayoola has recently been killing off her suitors, and Korede has been helping to clean and cover up the mess. Their loyalty is tested, however, when Korede’s secret object of affection becomes ensnared by her sister’s charms. My Sister the Serial Killer depicts women as strong and resourceful despite being confined by a patriarchal society that idolizes, abuses or ignores them. Braithwaite explores these complex themes in a novel that is refreshingly unique, deeply funny and insightful. Hopefully, she will continue to surprise readers with future works to enjoy and contemplate.
Ayoola summons me with these words -- Korede, I killed him.
I had hoped I would never hear those words again.
That's one of the best pair of opening sentences I can recall. How do you not get hooked right there? You get so much in those two sentences, you know that Ayoola has killed multiple times, at least three (otherwise, Korede would've said something like "What, again?"); the fact that she says "him," instead of "someone" or a name suggests that Korede will know who she's talking about without explanation; and you hear a put upon sibling fed up with their sister's antics.
And yeah, that's the book in essence -- Ayoola has killed her third boyfriend (in self-defense, she swears . . . again), and calls on her big sister to come help clean up. Korede's a clean freak -- she's not quite OCD, but close. When life gets stressful, she cleans, and with her little sister, she's got plenty of stress in her life.
Korede is beginning to think that Ayoola might not just be the innocent girl who has been able narrowly escape assault. Three kills, she's read online, qualifies you to be a serial killer. And what's worse -- the doctor that Korede has unrequited feelings for has caught her sister's eye, too (and vice versa) -- and that can't be good for him. I had about a dozen ideas how this was going to end -- and I was wrong on every point. Which is good, because Braithwaite's ideas were far better than mine would've been. She zagged when most would've zigged and nailed the resolution to this book.
This is enough to make an entertaining and suspense filled book. But then you throw in the characters that Braithwaite has created and things take on a different twist.
Korede's a nurse -- a demanding, dedicated, compassionate one. Ayoola is a vapid knockout who knows that it doesn't matter what she knows, does, or thinks -- she's convinced that all she has to do is continue to look good and make men feel good about themselves and she's set. This seems shallow, but neither Ayoola or Korede can prove that she's wrong.
The dynamic of the long-suffering, responsible, plain(er) sibling doing the right thing and looking out for the spontaneous, outgoing, super attractive one isn't new. Adding a mother who takes the responsible one for granted and dotes on the other, doesn't change things, either. But somehow, Braithwaite is able to depict these three in a way that seems wholly familiar (so you can make assumptions about a lot of the relationship) and yet it feels so fresh she might have invented the archetypes.
If Jennifer Weiner lived in and wrote about Lagos, Nigeria and included murders in a tale of sibling rivalry and learning to accept yourself -- you'd get something a lot like this book. There's an intangible, ineffable quality to Braithwaite's writing that I cannot capture better than that -- but it's better than my illustration sounds. The story goes to some really dark places, and there's really no reason to find the characters or story so charming -- but that's all down to Braithwaite's fantastic authorial voice. Yes, it's about murder, the importance of family, self-sacrifice and what's more important in this life -- skill, intelligence and dedication, or beauty and sex appeal; but you might as well be reading about Bridget Jones counting cigarettes and worrying about Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy.
One other thing -- this is just a wonderfully designed book. The size -- smaller than your typical hardcover -- is distinctive, the typeface used in chapter headings and page numbers are peculiar enough to stand out. The whole thing just feels like a different kind of book. Does this make an impact on your enjoyment of the novel? Probably not, but I appreciated the experience and look.
I can't think of enough ways to praise Braithwaite -- there's an intangible quality to this book that just won me over pretty much on page one. You will not believe that this is her first novel -- and you will hope it's not her last. The sibling rivalry story was well-told and engaging, the hospital stories were enough to be the core of a very different novel by themselves, the serial killer story was unpredictable. The characters are the kind that you'll remember for a long time. Stop reading me and go find a copy of this book.
Thanks to NetGalley and to Atlantic Books (Doubleday) for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
The title of this book hooked me. The fact that it was set in Lagos, Nigeria, made it more attractive. I could not resist the cover. And then I started reading and got hit by this first paragraph:
“Ayoola summons me with these words —Korede, I killed him. I had hoped I would never hear those words again.”
Told in the first person by Korede, the book narrates her story and that of her “complex” relationship with her younger sister, Ayoola, beautiful, graceful, a successful designer, beloved of social media, irresistible to men, the favourite of everybody… She’s almost perfect. But, there is a big but, which you will have guessed from the title. She is a serial killer.
This is a short and very funny book, although it requires a certain kind of sense of humour on the part of the reader. You need to be able to appreciate sarcasm and dark humour (very dark) to find it funny, but if you do, this is a fresh voice and a different take on what has become an extremely popular genre recently, domestic noir. I kept thinking about the many novels I had read where I had commented on the setting of the book and how well the author had captured it. There are no lengthy descriptions in this novel, but it manages to capture the beat and the rhythm of Lagos (a place where I’ve never been, I must admit) and makes us appreciate what life must be like for the protagonists. Because, although Ayoola is a murderer, life goes on, and Korede has to keep working as a nurse, she is still in love (or so she thinks) with one of the doctors at the hospital, their mother still suffers from her headaches, Ayoola wants to carry on posting on Snapchat, the patient in coma Korede confides in needs to be looked after, the police need to be seen to be doing something, and there are more men keen on spending time with beautiful Ayoola…
I found Korede understandable, although I doubt that we are meant to empathise with her full-heartedly. At some points, she seems to be a victim, trapped in a situation she has no control over. At others, we realise that we only have her own opinion of her sister’s behaviour, and she has enabled the murderous activities of her sibling, in a strange symbiotic relationship where neither one of them can imagine life without the other. We learn of their traumatic past, and we can’t help but wonder what would we do faced with such a situation? If your sister was a psychopath (not a real psychiatric diagnosis, but I’m sure she’d score quite high in the psychopathy scale if her sister’s description is accurate) who kept getting into trouble, always blaming it on others, would you believe her and support her? Would you help her hide her crimes? Is blood stronger than everything else?
I loved the setting, the wonderful little scenes (like when Tade, the attractive doctor, sings and the whole city stops to listen, or when the police take away Korede’s car to submit it to forensic testing and then make her pay to return it to her, all dirty and in disarray), the voice of the narrator and her approach to things (very matter-of-fact, fully acknowledging her weaknesses, her less-than-endearing personality, sometimes lacking in insight but also caring and reflective at times), and the ending as well. I also enjoyed the writing style. Short chapters, peppered with Yoruba terms, vivid and engaging, it flows well and it makes it feel even briefer than it is.
If you enjoy books with a strong sense of morality and providing deep lessons, this novel is not for you. Good and bad are not black and white in this novel, and there is an undercurrent of flippancy about the subject that might appeal to fans of Dexter more than to those who love conventional thrillers or mysteries. But if you want to discover a fresh new voice, love black humour, and are looking for an unusual setting, give it a go. I challenge you to check a sample and see…
Lamians. That's what vampires are called now. They have rights just like regular people under the Stoker Treaty, so you'd better get used to it. This is part of the premise of Kelli Owen's TEETH, and it sucked me right in! (See what I did there? Perhaps I should move on...)
As we already know, just because laws are there doesn't mean they'll be followed. We only have to look at the civil rights movement to see that. Once coming of age is reached and the new, Lamian teeth come out, they're as difficult to hide as skin color. Unlike skin color though, those new teeth signify a lot of differences-we are NOT all the same. Lamians have special powers-they may be able to read our thoughts for one, and who's comfortable with that? TEETH does a terrific job of addressing the types of sociopolitical issues of today under the guise of vampirism.
Set in a small town, bigotry, ignorance and prejudice play a large role here. Lamians are hated as well as admired. They are ousted from popular social circles and in others they may be worshipped. A young woman just getting her teeth and worrying about being expelled from her social clique at school has feelings just as valid as the young man who wants to pay the dentist for implants because he needs to be accepted into a Lamian group. Looking at issues from all sides, Owen does a great job of slipping in current political commentary and I enjoyed that. Oh, and she also slips in a serial killer, but I'll leave you to discover that on your own!
Another aspect of this story that I enjoyed was the Lamplight Foundation. This is a Lamian organization designed to help Lamians learn more about their history, their future, their abilities and many other things. I found myself wanting to know more about them, how they came about and especially more about the leader of their local branch, Maximillian. Perhaps we will get that in a future book? I certainly hope so.
Just when I think I'm sick to death of vampires, an author comes along and puts their own spin on the old myths. So... relax-there's no sparkling here. There's no whiny regrets here as there is with Lestat and Louis, either. What we DO have is a clever way to address fear, bigotry and prejudice, and how they are used in our current political climate. And that way is all dressed up and disguised in the bloody gore of torn out throats and other body parts. Come on, how much fun is that? It's a LOT of fun! Trust me on this.
Recommended! You can get your copy here: TEETH
*I was given an e-ARC of this novel in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*