I don't think I've ever felt such a protracted sense of dread when reading a book. Emotionally, it was like the most tense parts of a Hitchcock movie strung together for 300 pages, even though there are no more moments of high drama in My Sister Rosa than in any other psychological thriller--if that's what you could call this.
Justine Larbalestier has written some dark books (Liar) and some distant characters (Magic or Madness), but Rosa is a whole other thing. This book is creepy, but not in a horror novel way. It's about Che, the 17-year-old son of a globe-trotting, super-cool couple who's just moved to New York with his family to pursue his parents' latest business venture. But what it's really about is, as advertised, Che's sister Rosa. Because Rosa is a psychopath, and Che seems to be the only one who knows it.
When she was little, they recognized she was not typical and she saw doctors and therapists. But she didn't like that, and she learned the right things to say, and they declared her fine. Now, Rosa is the perfect little adorable girl--to everyone except her brother. She trusts him. She tells him things. She asks him questions.
And Che, god bless him, tries to keep her in check. He extracts promises about what she won't do. He watches her, and he answers her questions about how to be normal. And he loves her, and also he hates her.
Che lives in such a state of hyperawareness of Rosa that I started to get really twitchy halfway through this book. The family doesn't have much money, but they live well because the parents work for their best friends, who are incredibly wealthy. Che's father's family tree is full of violent, arrogant people, so he knows where Rosa comes from, and he understands the risk. But his parents won't listen to his concerns--they are hardly around--and he doesn't know what he could do to stop her if Rosa decided to do something awful.
As Che settles into New York and he begins to make friends, he watches Rosa make friends with a sense of dread. Again, just so much dread. And all justified. It's always on the horizon, always ominous, but so rarely does anything actually bad happen. Rosa does what works for her, and keeping off the radar is part of what works for her. But she's a very smart girl, and very curious, and....ooooh, it's just really creepy.
Honestly, I took a page from Jenny and read the ending when I was about a third of the way through the book, because it seemed like there was no way this could end well. And I will say, it's not exactly a "happy" ending. It's maybe kind of--cathartic? Like, things are all okay, but the tension that builds and builds and builds over the course of the book is definitely addressed.
Che is just a guy, going to the gym, falling for a girl, navigating a new city--and waiting for his sister to maybe murder someone. I am going to be shaking off this dread for days to come. Excellent and creepy as hell.