Review: My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, reviewed by Jess Rae

My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

A review by Jess Rae

17-year-old Che only wants 4 things: to go back home to Australia, to be allowed to spar, to get a girlfriend and most importantly to keep his little sister Rosa under control. Angelic, intelligent and only 10, Rosa seems like the perfect, talented little sister, but Che knows better. After convincing her “friend” to kill her guinea pig, Che knows that Rosa is anything but an angel. However, due to their parents always moving and being involved with their own business, they don’t see that Rosa is severely troubled. Che is convinced that Rosa is a psychopath, and while she hasn’t hurt anyone yet, he knows it’s just a matter of time.

Justine constructs a compelling and intense relationship between Che and Rosa, a relationship built on insane promises like, “I promise I won’t kill and won’t make anyone else kill.” While Che is trying to get used to his new life in New York City, finding a gym to spar and getting the attention of a beautiful girl, he is also trying to stay one step ahead of Rosa’s mind games.

What makes the relationship so intense is that Che cares for Rosa and wants to protect her like the big brother he is, but he also knows that she is dangerous. I relate to Che being an older sibling and that feeling of wanting to protect younger siblings – obviously my siblings aren’t anywhere near as insane as Rosa, but I understand the worry and care for a younger sibling. While Che is trying to navigate new friendships and relationships, while keeping his sister under control, he starts to notice psychopathic tendencies in other members of his family too.

What I liked about My Sister Rosa is the slow build of suspense; you know something is coming but you don’t know what and it’s absolutely insane – pun intended. The relationship between Che and Rosa, while dramatic, reads quite believable, as Justine doesn’t have Rosa doing one bad thing to the next; it’s a lot more mind games than blatant bad behavior, which makes Rosa even scarier.  There is also some diversity among the characters, in terms of both race and sexuality, but what makes the diversity compelling is the reason for these characters existing isn’t because of their diversity.

When I was in high school psychological thrillers were my genre of choice, with one of my favourite novels being Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James (another Australian novel). Over the last couple of years I’ve strayed away from that genre so I wasn’t sure how I would feel about My Sister Rosa, but I was sucked in from the beginning. I found the characters, despite the situation, to be compelling and believable. Che’s desires to go back home and to protect his sister resonated with me, which is perhaps why I enjoyed it so much.

“I’m not sure I understand what love is. It’s like ‘good’. No one’s explained it clearly. I love ice-cream. I love chess and mathematics. I love getting what I want. I love getting away with things. But not people. They’re either useful or they’re not.”

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