The Girls: A Novel

The Girls: A Novel

4.1 49
by Lori Lansens

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In Lansens's second novel, readers come to know Rose and Ruby, 29-year-old conjoined twins. When one of the girls decides to write her autobiography, the distinct personalities of the two emerge to reveal their contradictory longing for independence and their unwavering togetherness.See more details below


In Lansens's second novel, readers come to know Rose and Ruby, 29-year-old conjoined twins. When one of the girls decides to write her autobiography, the distinct personalities of the two emerge to reveal their contradictory longing for independence and their unwavering togetherness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Some books translate so smoothly to audio that they seem meant to be read aloud, and this fictional autobiography of 29-year-old conjoined twins Rose and Ruby Darlen is one such tale. Though joined at the head, "The Girls" have separate bodies and distinct personalities, which come to life through Zimbalist's and Davidovich's narration. Zimbalist takes on the husky voice of Rose, a writer who's intent on penning her life story-in other words, this audio. She has coerced Ruby, voiced to bubbly perfection by Davidovich, into contributing her own chapters, and the combination of their interwoven first-person narratives makes for an illuminating portrait of two extraordinary women, their unshakeable bond and the people who have guided them along the way. Zimbalist does a fine job voicing not only Rose but the girls' uncle Stash, with his heavy Slovakian accent, their levelheaded aunt Lovey and their crotchety Italian neighbor, among others. Further complementing the narration is occasional music, adjusted to match the mood and tempo of the story. This is a masterful production of an unusual and inspiring story. Simultaneous release with the Little, Brown hardcover (Reviews, Jan. 16). (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
During a tornado in tiny Leaford, Ontario, twins are born to an unwed teenage runaway. Baby girls Ruby and Rose are craniopagus conjoined twins, connected at the head. Horrified and scared, the new mother abandons the babies, leaving them to be raised by Aunt Lovey Darlen, the nurse present at the birth, and her husband, Uncle Stash. The Darlens raise the twins with love, acceptance, and fortitude. The townspeople refer to the twins as "the girls." When Rose decides to write her autobiography, Ruby reminds her that she has not lived her life alone; thus the book contains chapters written by both girls. The oldest living conjoined twins at the age of twenty-nine, Rose and Ruby, not expected to live much longer, look back on their lives with an affecting poignancy. Contemplative Rose, who considers herself a writer, creates the majority of the chapters. Ruby's succinct revelatory sections provide a candid counter viewpoint. It is interesting to discover how much the girls differ from one another. With pitch-perfect prose, Lansens delves into the minds of the twins, enabling readers to experience their responses and adaptations to the world as well as to observe the reactions of others to the girls. There are several surprises here, including death and an unplanned pregnancy. The topic of conjoined twins could be freakish or odd but not in the capable hands of this superb author. Beautifully written, enlightening and compelling, the novel will appeal to high school students who appreciate realistic fiction. VOYA CODES: 5Q 3P S A/YA (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for YoungAdults). 2006, Little Brown, 384p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Rachelle Bilz
Library Journal
Twenty-nine-year-old twins Ruby and Rose Darlen are conjoined at the head and share an essential vein, which makes separation impossible. Born during a freak Canadian tornado and abandoned by their teen mother, the girls were raised by Aunt Lovey, the fiftysomething nurse who delivered them, and Lovey's husband, Uncle Stash. In two wildly distinct voices, Lansens brings to life these surprisingly independent sisters (they have separate jobs at the public library) who couldn't get any closer and yet who have secrets from each other and unexpectedly private interior lives, tempered always by a humor rich in what-can-ya'-do self-deprecation. Rose, the catalyst for getting their story into her laptop, is a natural-born storyteller whose exquisite use of language masks many of the shattering truths that blaze forth in Ruby's reluctant long-hand version. Lansens fills Rose and Ruby's world with loving parents who have stories and secrets of their own and friends found in unlikely places. This novel after Rush Home Road speaks volumes about solitude, loneliness, and enormous personal courage. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/06.]-Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Lansens (Rush Home Road, 2002) overcomes the inherent "ick" factor in this surprisingly moving story of conjoined twins in a small Canadian community. Ruby and Rose Darlen are joined side by side at the head. Rose, who tells most of the story, was born with a normal body but with her face pulled out of shape. Ruby's face is lovely, but because her legs never fully formed, Rose must carry her. The twins have separate brains, separate personalities and interests. They even have separate jobs at the local library. As the novel opens, they are approaching their 30th birthday. Rose, who loves literature but passed up college because Ruby would not attend, has decided to write her own autobiography, offering to let Ruby compose her own chapters. Rose tells the dramatic story of their birth on the day a tornado touched down, of their mother who immediately abandoned them and of the saintly but colorful local nurse Lovey and her dashing but kindly husband Stash who adopted them. Although Rose often describes Ruby as a stereotypical "shallow pretty sister" (except most such sisters are not conjoined with misshapen bodies or heads), we gradually learn that Ruby is more than a pretty face and has in fact gathered a museum-quality collection of Indian artifacts. Rose leaves it to Ruby to mention the crucial fact that the sisters are dying from a brain tumor. Rose also has difficulty discussing the baby she conceived with a local boy who kissed Ruby's lips while impregnating Rose's body. Having given the baby up for adoption, Rose now yearns to find her. That bit of melodrama aside, the novel's power lies in the wonderful narrative voices of Rose and Ruby. Lansens has created a richly nuanced, totallybelievable sibling relationship between two small-town girls in a community filled with lively haracters. An unsentimental, heartwarming page-turner. Quite an achievement.

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Little, Brown and Company
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The Girls

By Lori Lansens

Random House

Lori Lansens
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0676977952

Chapter One

ruby & me


I have never looked into my sister's eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I've never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that. I've never driven a car. Or slept through the night. Never a private talk. Or solo walk. I've never climbed a tree. Or faded into a crowd. So many things I've never done, but oh, how I've been loved. And, if such things were to be, I'd live a thousand lives as me, to be loved so ­exponentially.

My sister, Ruby, and I, by mishap or miracle, having intended to divide from a single fertilized egg, remained joined instead, by a spot the size of a bread plate on the sides of our twin heads. We're known to the world medical community as the oldest surviving craniopagus twins (we are twenty-­nine years old) and to millions around the globe, those whose interest in people like us is more than just passing, as conjoined craniopagus twins Rose and Ruby Darlen of Baldoon County. We've been called many things: freaks, horrors, monsters, devils, witches, retards, wonders, marvels. To most, we're a curiosity. In small-­town Leaford, where we live and work, we're just "The Girls."

Raise your right hand. Press the base of your palm to the lobe of your right ear. Cover your ear and fan out your fingers - that's where my sister and I are affixed, our faces not quite side by side, our skulls fused together in a circular pattern running up the temple and curving around the frontal lobe. If you glance at us, you might think we're two women embracing, leaning against the other ­tete-­a-­tete, the way sisters do.

Ruby and I are identical twins and would be identical looking, having high foreheads like our mother and wide, full mouths, except that Ruby's face is arranged quite nicely (in fact, Ruby is very beautiful), whereas my features are misshapen and frankly grotesque. My right eye slants steeply towards the place my right ear would have been if my sister's head had not grown there instead. My nose is longer than Ruby's, one nostril wider than the other, pulled to the right of my brown slanted eye. My lower jaw shifts to the left, slurring my speech and giving a husky quality to my voice. Patches of eczema rouge my cheeks, while Ruby's complexion is fair and flawless. Our scalps marry in the middle of our conjoined heads, but my frizzy hair has a glint of auburn, while my sister is a swingy brunette. Ruby has a deep cleft in her chin, which people find ­endearing.

I'm five feet five inches tall. When we were born, my limbs were symmetrical, in proportion to my body. Presently, my right leg is a full three inches shorter than my left, my spine compressed, my right hip cocked, and all because I have carried my sister like an infant, since I was a baby myself, Ruby's tiny thighs astride my hip, my arm supporting her posterior, her arm forever around my neck. Ruby is my sister. And strangely, undeniably, my ­child.

There is some discomfort in our conjoinment. Ruby and I experience mild to severe neck, jaw, and shoulder pain, for which we take physiotherapy three times a week. The strain on my body is constant, as I bear Ruby's weight, as I tote Ruby on my hip, as I struggle to turn Ruby over in our bed or perch on my stool beside the toilet for what seems like hours. (Ruby has a multitude of bowel and urinary tract problems.) We are challenged, certainly, and uncomfortable, sometimes, but neither Ruby nor I would describe our conjoinment as painful.

It's difficult to explain our locomotion as conjoined twins or how it developed from birth using grunts and gestures and what I suppose must be telepathy. There are days when, like a normal person, we're clumsy and uncoordinated. We have less natural symbiosis when one of us (usually Ruby) is sick, but mostly our dance is a smooth one. We hate doing things in unison, such as answering yes or no at the same time. We never finish each other's sentences. We can't shake our heads at once or nod (and wouldn't if we could - see above). We have an unspoken, even unconscious, system of checks and balances to determine who'll lead the way at any given moment. There is conflict. There is ­compromise.

Ruby and I share a common blood supply. My blood flows normally in the left side of my brain, but the blood in my right (the connected side) flows to my sister's left, and vice versa for her. It's estimated that we share a web of one hundred veins as well as our skull bones. Our cerebral tissue is fully enmeshed, our vascular systems snarled like briar bushes, but our brains themselves are separate and functioning. Our thoughts are distinctly our own. Our selves have struggled fiercely to be unique and, in fact, we're more different than most identical twins. I like sports, but I'm also bookish, while Ruby is girlie and prefers television. When Ruby is tired, I'm hardly ever ready for bed. We're rarely hungry together and our tastes are poles apart: I prefer spicy fare, while my sister has a disturbing fondness for ­eggs.

Ruby believes in God and ghosts and reincarnation. (Ruby won't speculate on her next incarnation though, as if imagining something different from what she is now would betray us both.) I believe the best the dead can hope for is to be conjured from time to time, through a note of haunting music or a passage in a book.

I've never set eyes on my sister, except in mirror images and photographs, but I know Ruby's gestures as my own, through the movement of her muscles and bone. I love my sister as I love myself. I hate her that way too.
This is the story of my life. I'm calling it "Autobiography of a Conjoined Twin." But since my sister claims that it can't technically ("technically" is Ruby's current favourite word) be considered an autobiography and is opposed to my telling what she considers our story, I have agreed that she should write some chapters from her point of view. I will strive to tell my story honestly, allowing that my truth will be coloured a shade different from my sister's and acknowledging that it's sometimes necessary for the writer to connect the dots.

Excerpted from The Girls by Lori Lansens Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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