Scootsa1000’s #CBR6 Review 51: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

UnknownI didn’t have much hope for this one. I mean, the big tagline on the cover is that it is written by the author of “The Jane Austen Book Club,” which of course I read, and I really despised. But the title kept drawing me back. And then the stellar reviews from my trusted Cannonballers. And the nomination for the Booker prize. I couldn’t say no to this one.

This wonderful story is a tale about siblings and family. About science and psychology. About nature and nurture. And about language and communication.

At the start (really, the middle, as Rosemary tells it) Rosemary Cooke is a lonely young woman in the 1990s, studying at UCAL Davis. She has few (if any) friends, and rarely speaks unless she has to. She never does anything of interest, really. Until one day, she sees a girl in the cafeteria loudly and dramatically breaking up with her boyfriend. Chairs are thrown, tables are overturned, glasses are smashed, and Rosemary — really, an innocent bystander — can’t help herself. She smashes a glass, too, and is dragged down to the police station with Harlow, the dramatic girlfriend. The two start an unlikely friendship. Loud, bossy, domineering Harlow, and quiet, reserved Rosemary.

But Rosemary wasn’t always so quiet and reserved and alone. It used to be that she would never stop talking. She was a very physical girl, always climbing and jumping on furniture, always touching other people. Rosemary hasn’t seen her brother in over 10 years, and hasn’t seen her twin sister since she was 5. Her family doesn’t talk about the past and Rosemary’s conflicting memories aren’t helping her come to terms with the changes in her life.

Rosemary’s brother, Lowell, is on the fun from the FBI. He is a wanted domestic terrorist, a member of the Animal Liberation Front. He goes around the country and tries to free animals being used for science experiments. He destroys labs and causes chaos. His actions might also be affecting his sanity. But he’s still a cool, suave guy, and when he appears, using a pseudonym, Harlow falls for him in a big way. I kind of loved this little bit that tells you everything you need to know about stupid Harlow and wry Rosemary:

“Here’s the thing. He’s a wanted man. Like picture-in-the-post-office wanted.Wanted by the FBI as a domestic terrorist for the Animal Liberation Front. You can’t even tell anyone he was here or I’ll be arrested. Again. For real.
“Before this weekend, I hadn’t seen him in ten years. I don’t have the first fucking clue what his favorite band is. Travers isn’t even his name. You really, really, really need to forget about him.”
There I go again, not keeping my mouth shut.
Because what could be more Casablanca? Suddenly Harlow saw that what she’d always wanted was a man of principle. A man of action. A domestic terrorist.
Every girl’s dream, if she can’t have a vampire.

And what of Rosemary’s sister, Fern? Removed forcibly from the family at age 5, Fern’s absence is the root of many of the Cooke family’s issues. Rosemary’s mother decides to give her daughter her journals from the twins’ childhood, to see if it helps Rosemary to uncover her past. But Rosemary isn’t sure she can ever read those journals, as the pain just might run too deep.

The buzz about this book talks about the major plot twist that comes out of nowhere. Going in, I knew what the twist was, but it didn’t spoil the story for me at all. I enjoyed following Rosemary and Fern’s story, and jumping from the middle to the beginning, and back to the middle, and finally to the end. The characters were vibrant and entertaining, and it was a hell of a lot better than The Jane Austen Book Club.

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