Sunday, July 17, 2016

Hit Me Where I Live

When I picked up Gemini, by Sonya Mukherjee, from Netgalley, I'll admit it was mostly because conjoined twins is a sensational story.  How do they manage the day to day? How do they manage relationships? Get along with their parents? I was in it for the melodrama.

Which is why I was seriously knocked on my metaphorical, emotional butt when this book reached right into the darkest and most secret parts of my heart and laid them out on the page with great sympathy and perfect comprehension.

This sounds like hyperbole; it's not.  This is what happened, and there were totally non-dramatic moments in the first 30 pages of this book that had me near tears because I felt exactly like that in high school.  Hell, for years into adulthood. I was Clara.

Clara and Hailey are conjoined twins, joined back to back and sharing too much of their nervous and digestive systems to have been separated.  Their mother is firmly insistent that they are perfectly normal--and they are, for the most part. They're smart and funny and generally healthy.  In their small town, everyone knows them and they're no more remarkable than anyone else--no staring, lots of friends.

But Hailey and Clara know they're different.  Hailey knows she's unmissable, so she dyes her hair pink.  Being conjoined isn't even close to the main thing about her, and if she can't blend in, she'll stand out in her own way.

Clara knows she's a freak--she understands that she's smart and a good friend and all her strengths, but she also knows she's a freak, and she keeps a tight, firm clamp on any feeling that might look like wanting what other girls have--to travel, date, or dance.

The book is about their senior year, about looking ahead at staying in their small town or reaching further into the world--and trying to be brave enough to reach.  I love Hailey, who is scared but determined. I love how they complement each other, and how they recognize that.

But oh, I am Clara.  There are words that Clara says to herself in this book that I literally wrote to myself in my diary when I was a teenager.  There is a tight control that she keeps on herself, because she knows that she is not one of these normal people whom someone could love. She knows that she lives in the world on sufferance, and she will not ask more than she's entitled to.

So when I tell you that this book is in so many ways perfect, when I tell you that it's beautiful, and that I love all of these characters who are doing the best with whatever they have to work with--when I tell you these things, I hope you believe in the tender beauty here. The whole thing is a breathtaking, heartwarming experience.

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