Sister Mine is the third of Nalo Hopkinson’s books that I’ve read. Coming into it, I knew that her books are largely based in Canada (where she lives) and draw on Caribbean folklore and history. I was also really excited to read it after reading Midnight Robber, which had quickly become one of my favorites.
Sister Mine is the story of Makeda, a formerly conjoined twin and half demigod who is struggling to gain her independence and individuality from her twin sister Abby. The story is one about family, the relationship between sisters, and birthright.
What’s interesting about this book is that it takes a pretty familiar trope – that of twins wanting to get a bit of space from each other and learn who they are separate from one another – and kicks it up a notch through fantasy with Makeda and Abby’s origins. Makeda not only spends most of the book feeling stifled and smothered by her sister, but also jealous of the power Abby has that she doesn’t. When she moves out, Abby feels abandoned, which further opens the wound between them. While the story could have just been about that, the sisters resentment towards each other, things become more complicated when their demigod father goes missing. This forces them back together much sooner than Makeda would have liked, and so we not only get to see flashbacks of the sisters’ relationship, but we see how their relationship has changed and been damaged due to Makeda’s decision to go off on her own.
A huge part of Makeda’s jealousy towards Abby is the fact that Abby has mojo (like other demigods) and Makeda doesn’t. While exploring the sisters’ relationship – which is complicated – we also see how tied it is to their father’s family and specifically Makeda’s wish to be a demigod like her sister. While sometimes Makeda comes off as whiny, it makes a lot of sense when you consider that she grew up around these powerful people, including her father, uncle, and sister, and then is just expected to live as a regular human. Through Makeda’s discovery of what happened to her mojo, we learn a lot more about the events of Makeda and Abby’s birth as well as their demigod family.
We are introduced to a bunch of characters, including the demigods who are Makeda and Abby’s family, but who also don’t fully accept them because they are part-human and thus aren’t supposed to exist. We hear a lot about Makeda and Abby’s mother, who was cursed and turned into a sea monster once the demigods found out about her relationship with their father. While the demigods seem spiteful at first, we also see how complicated the concept of family is for them – while they also cursed Makeda and Abby’s father for his relationship with their mother, they do care about his wellbeing and are just as worried when he goes missing as Makeda and Abby. These are people who live forever, so while they dole out punishments to each other, the grudges they hold aren’t unconditional, and once the punishment is over, it’s over.
What I love about this book – and all of Hopkinson’s books – is that while she writes in sci-fi/fantasy, it’s always clear that she’s writing what she knows. Her characters are both super black and super Caribbean, and while they deal with circumstances that are clearly fantastical and fictional, at the core, these are people who are rooted in their culture and experience.
I absolutely recommend that you pick up Sister Mine the next time you’re at a bookstore or browsing Amazon, as well as her other books, Midnight Robber (my favorite of hers) and Brown Girl in the Ring.
Up next on Bayana’s Book Corner: Battle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older