This is the story of Rose and Ruby Darlen, conjoined craniopagus twins who live in Canada. Born on the same day as a giant tornado, and abandoned at the hospital by their teenage mother, the girls were adopted and raised by Lovey Darlen, the midwife who helped to deliver the twins, and her husband, Stanislaus (‘Stash’). The book is narrated mostly by Rose, with occasional chapters by Ruby, and is written as their autobiography, telling about their lives with their adoptive parents, and the difficulties of living as conjoined twins, as well as the love and affection that they feel for each other. The histories of the characters are also explored.
The beauty of the story is that it makes the reader see the girls as two distinct characters; their conjoinment soon stops being the thing that defines them, and instead their different personalities, likes and dislikes and idiosyncracies become the reasons for how we view them.
Rose is more bookish, and loves reading, writing and baseball, whereas Ruby loves to watch television, and explore local Indian archeology. She seems to be the slightly more immature of the two girls (although there are moments when she displays real strength of character). Due to the nature of their condition, Rose seems the more dominant twin, both in terms of personality, and also physically; she has to carry Ruby everywhere, with Ruby’s legs wrapped around her waist.
The girls naturally share a very close emotional bond and deep love for each other, but it is clear that both girls sometimes wish that they were not conjoined, or at the very least, imagine how different life would have been if they had been born separately.
As well as the almost unique difficulties they face due to their physical condition, the girls also face problems that many people would be familiar with (Rose, for instance, tells how she became pregnant and had to give her child up for adoption; something that haunts her permanently).
I found the characters very real and likeable, and especially liked Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash, who are extremely well developed. Their human flaws and strengths are well depicted, making it easy for the reader to care about these people.
The writing flowed well, and although the story jumped about between the present day and the past, it was not difficult to follow. The personalities of Rose and Ruby came through well in their respective narratives, so that I never lost track of who was speaking (it was interesting to see how they both remembered the same events differently, even though it would seem that due to sheer logistics, their memories would be expected to be almost identical).
I didn’t find the book perhaps as moving as I thought it might be, but it was an engrossing read nonetheless, and I would certainly consider reading more by this author.
(Author’s website can be found here.)