Allen & Unwin, 2016
All Che wants to do is get a girlfriend, move up from training to sparring in boxing, go home to Australia and…keep his little sister Rosa under control. Not the usual list a 17 year old boy might have. But Che’s sister Rosa is not the usual type of girl. Che’s convinced she is a psychopath (or more properly, has antisocial personality disorder), and has been studying her since she was very small – nothing he has witnessed has made him think otherwise, from the way she manipulates people around her to the outright awfulness of having her best friend kill her own guinea pig. But it seems being ten excuses a lot of strange behaviour, in the eyes of his parents at least, and most other people only see the charm in Rosa’s cleverness, taking her cute smile and precocious behaviour at face value. Can Che manage to keep her in check while struggling with everything else going on in his life, when no one else seems to think there is a problem?
Given Larbalestier’s previous form in work such as Liar, I fully expected to both devour this book and come out at the end with perhaps more questions than I had going in, and I wasn’t disappointed on either count. I felt constantly off-kilter while reading, always waiting for the other shoe to fall, wondering if what I was seeing, filtered through the lens of Che’s narration, was accurate, consistent, realistic, and this was a masterstroke by the author. You really never knew just where you stood in terms of the events of the book, even though Che proved again and again to be a reliable recounter of events, because at the back of your mind there was always a seed of concern, which Larbalestier carefully nurtured with drops of information about Che, his family, and past events, until uncertainty bloomed through the suspense of the story.
There’s a genuine darkness to this book that reminded me of Kaaron Warren’s Slights, albeit being aimed at a younger audience. The true terror comes from the normality of the story – this could be a real person (and let’s face it, the research suggests there are actually plenty of people like Rosa out there). It’s eerie and the ongoing dread of waiting for Rosa, or possibly other characters, to do something awful is quite real. I will be very surprised if this book doesn’t show up on a few Awards shortlists next year.