The story is told exclusively from the first-person present-tense perspective of Grace, the more steady and introverted of a set of conjoined twins--who present with separate arms and upper torsos, but share everything from the navel down. Grace and Tippi’s family forms part of the external conflict, between their live-in grandmother, ballerina little sister, breadwinner mother, and alcoholic father. But the catalyst is the girls switching from homeschooling to suddenly entering a “real” high school.
The author admits to being directly influenced by the real life story of Brittany and Abby Hensel, dicephalic parapagus twins from a small farming town in Minnesota. But those who’ve followed the lives of said twins, and/or watched their inspiring show on TLC, won’t find many similarities in the personalities or family life of the Hensels as compared with the fictional Tippi and Grace. When the Hensels chose to show their lives to the world, it was to educate and raise awareness. Tippi and Grace, on the other hand, are essentially forced into a media contract as a last financial resort.
What I liked:
The fascinating psychological implications of the twins’ situation are handled with an astute matter-of-factness and poignant sensitivity. Certain nuances rang quite true: the girls’ insistence upon individuality and the understandable social preference for each twin being addressed as a unique entity, despite their obvious physical interdependence….guarding their privacy and hating to be photographed or videoed without their permission….longing to know what separation would be like but unable to imagine the emptiness of life apart….etc.
What Didn’t Work For Me:
To this reader, the free verse format was often more depth-inhibiting than enhancing. The rhythm was sometimes clunky and rarely what I could take as poetic. Physical descriptions are often lacking, even when it seems they could have benefited from the structural layout. Add to that the life-threatening and tragedy elements and this story had echoes of John Green, but without the more quotable way with word assembly.
Readers may also do a bit of eye-rolling at the stereotypical high school setting—where the jocks are bad, the staff doesn’t think to prepare students for an exceedingly rare situation, cruel notes are left on lockers, and only two outcasts in the entire school apparently have the guts to treat the twins with decency or intrinsic value. While there was some attempt at a love interest, Jon and Grace’s chemistry is almost non-existent—and that doesn’t have as much to do with the conjoined twin aspect as one would think. Jon is simply forgettable. Yasmeen, their only other school friend, leaves a far more vibrant and believable impression.
The ending is foreseeable from early on, and not what this reader could call satisfying. Although on the whole, I suspect avid ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ fans are likely to derive the most meaning and reading pleasure out of this work of realistic fiction.
“When you share a life, seeing your sister’s boobs doesn’t really feel like a big deal.”