Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Books I've Read: Brother & Sister Enter the Forest


I picked this up at the library because the title was kind of fairy-tale-like and it intrigued me.  But this is no fairy tale!

The book begins with Justin showing up on his sister's doorstep needing a place to stay.  She hasn't seen him for several years and is reluctant to let him in.  As kids, Willa took care of Justin, protected him from their mother's clear dislike of her son.  But after Justin's actions wrecked havoc on her own life, Willa has tried to keep away from him.

But when it becomes clear that Justin has nowhere else to go, Willa lets him stay.

Willa lives a carefully ordered life, working as a nurse and building dioramas re-enacting her childhood trauma in her spare time.  She isn't close to anyone except her childhood best friend and likes to keep it that way, even with her boyfriend.  But Justin tries to get to know all the people in her life and she's uncomfortable with this.  Especially when the strength of their bond is tested as Justin's sobriety wavers.

The books plays out in two timelines: the present where Willa and Justin are adults, struggling to recover from events in the past,  and those past events that led to the strain in their relationship.

As a teenager Justin got involved with a slightly older man and convinced himself he was in love because this guy offered him an escape from his home and his mother's disapproval. But when he commits an horrific act of violence, he and Justin go on the run and the repercussions damage Justin and his family forever.

I liked the slow way this book unfolded with little details being dropped in here and there. It took until well into the book to fully understand how damaged Justin really is and even longer to figure out why.  And once you understand all these things, Willa's actions early in the book make a lot more sense.

I like a book that takes its time to reveal the truth and this one did that masterfully, keeping things compelling enough that you wanted to keep reading, even when the characters were behaving in truly dreadful ways toward each other.

So I'd recommend this one.  It's quite heavy in places, but it's a book about trauma and its effect on people long after the traumatic event so one kind of expects that.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

Opening like a fairy tale and ending like a nightmare, this cannonball of a queer coming-of-age novel follows a young man's relationship with a violent older boyfriend—and how he and his sister survive a terrible crime

After years of severed communication, Justin appears on his sister’s doorstep needing a place to stay. The home he's made for himself has collapsed, as has everything else in his life. When they were children, Willa played the role of her brother’s protector, but now, afraid of the chaos he might bring, she’s reluctant to let him in.

Willa lives a carefully ordered life working as a nurse and making ornate dioramas in her spare time. As Justin tries to connect with the people she’s closest to—her landlord, her boyfriend, their mother—she begins to feel exposed. Willa and Justin’s relationship has always been strained yet loving, frustrating and close. But it hits a new breaking point when Justin spirals out of control, unable to manage his sobriety and the sustained effects of a brain injury.

Years earlier, in high school, desperate to escape his home life and his disapproving, troubled mother, Justin falls into the hands of his first lover, a slightly older boy living on his own who offers Justin some semblance of intimacy and refuge. When Justin’s boyfriend commits a terrifying act of violence, the two flee on a doomed road trip, a journey that will damage Justin and change his and his family’s lives forever.

Weaving together these two timelines,
Brother & Sister Enter the Forest unravels the thread of a young man’s trauma and the love waiting for him on the other side.

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