From the minute I heard about this book on an episode of The Next Chapter CBC podcast, I knew I wanted to read it. Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister has quite an intriguing premise, not to mention a rather creepy, enticing cover. It takes place in Toronto, Ontario and follows a third-person narrative of Rose Bowan. Rose is in her thirties and owns an old movie theatre with her mother, who is gradually losing herself to dementia. Something strange begins happening to Rose during that summer; every time a thunderstorm occurs in the area, she finds herself losing consciousness and has vivid, realistic encounters whilst inhabiting another woman’s body. Rose sets out to find this other woman to see if she’s real, in hopes that she can come face-to-face with her eventually.
This book had so many things that I loved: thunderstorms, Marilyn Monroe, a character who works at a publishing house, horses, mystery, a bit of magical realism, a guilty conscience – I don’t want to say too much more about the plot itself because it’s really something that should be discovered along the way, but if you like any of these things, you’ll probably enjoy the book. Another element that made this book even more relatable for me personally was the fact it’s set in a very familiar location. It mentions towns outside of Toronto about 20 minutes away from where I grew up, so I knew exactly where it was taking place. I always find it so cool when a book is set in or near the place where you grew up. It always seems to add a whole other dimension to it.
Not only was the strange premise interesting and the location relatable, it was also very well written and thematic. I mentioned a guilty conscience earlier, and it belongs to our protagonist, Rose. As the story goes on, you’re finding out more about what Rose is repressing and how it’s affecting her, and how it parallels with her strange out-of-body experiences. The only downfall for me was the ending. For that kind of plot I was expecting more, but the ending left me a bit underwhelmed and I thought it could have been stronger. Besides that though, Little Sister lives up to the characteristics of a weird tale involving grief, regret, and escapism. It’s the kind of book you’ll want to be reading on a stormy, summer day.