My Sister, the Serial Killer

January 30, 2019

My Sister, the Serial Killer. Oyinkan Braithwaite. 2018. Doubleday. 240 pages. [Source: public library.]

Older siblings are often like surrogate parents to their younger brothers and sisters. They leverage their wisdom and experience to help the younger ones navigate life. Or get away with murder.

In My Sister, the Serial Killer, Korede has the misfortune of being the only person her younger sister Ayoola calls when one of her boyfriends has the misfortune of encountering her late father’s prized knife. I suppose the third time is a charm, because that’s what turned her into the textbook serial killer. Korede, with her meticulous attention to detail, has proven herself a worthy accomplice, shielding Ayoola from the consequences of her actions.

Ayoola is, by all accounts, the more beautiful and beguiling sister. I read her as flighty and self-centered, and prone to ignoring the perceptions about her behavior, especially as she “mourns” her missing boyfriend. Ayoola, for all her naivete, is also cunning. She uses her charisma to endear herself to people, but her ability to manipulate everyone around her to protect her demonstrates that she’s not the beautiful fool she seems. I found myself very early on not trusting her, straddling a very thin line questioning “how stupid is she” or “how genius is she” that she’s able to smile her way out of harrowing situations with her sister by her side.

Korede, on the other hand, is dutiful and a protector — her value lies more in who she is than how she looks. Where most people are consumed with the idea of Ayoola being married off as a beautiful wife, homely Korede’s future is nearly an afterthought, despite her desire to have a meaningful, loving relationship. Because their sensibilities contrast so much, it’s easy to initially paint Korede as a victim who’s as much caught in her sister’s web of lies as the men whose murders she hides. However, it becomes more apparent that her moral compass might be just as compromised as Ayoola, driven by her own desire not to live in her shadow anymore.

My Sister, the Serial Killer is about more than just one sister helping the other clean up her messes. Instead, it is a witty satire that grapples with relationships — duty, friendship, loyalty, rivalry, unrequited love, all through Korede’s interactions with her family, coworkers, and patients. Her relationship with Ayoola is undeniably close. However, there’s a tension between her desire to love the only sister she has and the resentment she feels toward her. Her coworkers highlight the contrast between the two, especially when Ayoola begins to seep into the refuge Korede found at the hospital where she is a nurse.

My Sister, the Serial Killer, surprised me with its dark humor. I expected it to be macabre and suspenseful given that whole serial killer thing. However, Korede’s narration brings an unintentional levity that I enjoyed. Through it, the reader gets a front-row seat to her unravelling, bringing with it a striking critique of society brought to light through some of the closest bonds a person has – family.

It’s been a while since a book caused me to have visceral reactions to every single character. I don’t think I totally liked any of them throughout the book, but I was able to see how complicated most of them were. While the ending initially left me unsatisfied, it was fitting. I am definitely interested in seeing what the future holds for the two sisters.

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