Blurb from Goodreads:
From the outside, everyone might think Fern and Rose are as close as twin sisters can be: Rose is the responsible one and Fern is the quirky one. But the sisters are devoted to one another and Rose has always been Fern’s protector from the time they were small.
Fern needed protecting because their mother was a true sociopath who hid her true nature from the world, and only Rose could see it. Fern always saw the good in everyone. Years ago, Fern did something very, very bad. And Rose has never told a soul. When Fern decides to help her sister achieve her heart’s desire of having a baby, Rose realizes with growing horror that Fern might make choices that can only have a terrible outcome. What Rose doesn’t realize is that Fern is growing more and more aware of the secrets Rose, herself, is keeping. And that their mother might have the last word after all.
This was my first time reading Sally Hepworth and I’ve turned into an instant fan thanks to this book! It’s a mesmerizing, tightly plotted domestic thriller that alternates between sweet, heartwarming scenes and then disturbing, uncomfortable moments that jolts the reader out of their complacency.
The book is mainly from Fern’s perspective with journal entries from her twin Rose interspersed throughout. I loved getting into Fern’s head and seeing what the world looked like to a protagonist who is neurodiverse, struggling with sensory overload and the complexities of human social interaction. Humans are difficult to understand and to Fern who takes everything literally, it’s a constant chore to pick apart the nuances of verbal communication. I loved the light-hearted humor from Fern’s encounters with members of the public at her library and was amused when she misinterpreted a comment or inadvertently offended someone, not at Fern’s expense, but because the author made her viewpoint so understandable that the rest of society looks silly and incomprehensible!
From the blurb, Fern’s intention to procreate for her sister’s benefit is clear from the outset, but I didn’t expect the unconventional budding romance that she inadvertently embarks on with her chosen target. It’s absolutely delightful and too precious for words; ‘Wally’ is such a fantastic love interest, so endearingly awkward and prickly at times, but sweet and considerate of Fern. She cultivated a relationship with him for the purpose of bearing a child for Rose, but as the two developed a genuine connection, it was adorable to see her pride in navigating a romantic relationship with each hurdle she successfully leaped over. I rooted for her to grow outside of the comfortable boundaries she put on herself to discover something new and rewarding.
Of course, the reason for those boundaries is made clear from Rose’s ominous journal entry at the beginning reflecting on something terrible Fern did as a child, so there is that slow-burning dread in the background as the reader waits anxiously for something to go horribly wrong, which adds tension even to the sweet joyful moments. Rose’s dread at Fern straying from their safe, well-oiled routine reminds you that there could be awful consequences for her stretching her wings and flying away from her sister’s protective embrace.
I wholeheartedly recommend this book for its refreshingly unique and non-traditional protagonist, the deliciously complicated codependent dynamic between the twins, a sweet non-cliche romance and amazing plot twist that upends your expectations.