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Sister Mine (Nebula/Andre Norton Shortlist)

Sister Mine by Nalo Hopkinson

Reviewed: 2014-03-28, 00:30, My Rating: 4.0 out of 5, review contains spoilers: No

Sister Mine

I still don't feel that this is a YA novel, but I'm glad that it's on the Andre Norton shortlist, because it should be enjoyable by anyone.

Makeda, the protagonist, is an outcast, tolerated by her family, lacking in mojo ("magic"), and thus the runt. Even her crippled sister Abby has mojo and the respect of their kind.

For reasons which slowly unfold, no-one has been telling her the truth about her origins, and Makeda has finally decided to break away from her stifling home environment. But her departure coincides with the disruption of the status quo, and the adventure begins.

I'd compare the book to Henry Kuttner's Hogben tales - and I'm sorry if those are a bit obscure but the search will be worthwhile - because Makeda's family have a similarly unconventional feel to the Hogbens. They have been given powers befitting the assistants to the Big Boss, but they're ramshackle and undignified with it. So there's always a faintly humorous tinge to Makeda's dealings with her family.

Makeda is black, but most of the time you wouldn't know it; while Makeda is searching for identity, both her gender and her colour are immaterial 99% of the time. She's just a person, gradually discovering some difficult truths about herself, and trying not to be killed in the process.

I do like Hopkinson's writing, Her descriptions are effective, image-rich and with carefully-selected portmanteau words to make the whole concise. She takes care to trim her language; every word earns its place. And I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of synaesthesia, which reminded me of Zelazny's Amber hellrides.

And I like the storytelling, the careful guarding of the final destination. I don't think all the loose ends get wrapped up, nor do all the steps feel rigorously logical, but the ending is a satisfactory out-working of her parents' love for Makeda and Abby.

In the context of the Andre Norton award, then, Makeda is the right age and maturity for a YA protagonist, and the story is a coming-of-age self-discovery. But Hopkinson has resisted the temptation to bolt on a cardboard hunk for a love interest. There's no conscious bending of the story to fit the standard plots.

I think this is my favourite of all the shortlist; it gets my vote.

Sister Mine on Amazon

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