Imagine having a twin sister. Now, imagine having a conjoined twin sister, a craniopagus conjoined twin sister at that!

In the fictitious novel The Girls author Lori Lansens introduces sisters, Rose and Ruby Darlen. Set in rural, southern Ontario, the girls are born in 1974 during a destructive tornado. Their unwed teen aged birth mother was passing through their town and eventually fled after giving birth to them. The sisters have separate bodies and minds, save for a bonding of their heads. After their whirlwind entrance into the world, Rose and Ruby are raised on a farm by Aunt Lovey, the nurse who attended their birth, and her husband Uncle Stash. The conjoined sisters or "the girls" as they are called, share an extraordinary but surprisingly ordinary life.

Lansen's intuition and imagination help her portray a sensitive account of the girls' shared life experience. The author tells each sister's story as a narrative memoir. The reader alternates from chapter to chapter, bouncing back and forth between both sets of eyes just like the way people look and stare at them. Rose is the writer and the avid sports fan. Ruby is the collector of native artifact. Rose is strong and carries the weight (literally) of Ruby, the sickly sister. Their personalities are very different which lead to conflicts and pinching episodes. Even with their different perspectives and distinct voices, the pair of inseparable sisters love, respect and support each other. They have jobs, experience love and sex, oh yes, and they live relatively normal existences despite their situation as they call it. At the age of 29, they get the distinct notoriety of being the oldest living craniopagus twins in history. The sisters struggle with their declining health and their impending demise as they race the clock to finish writing their book "Autobiography Of A Conjoined Twin" Rose hopes to make it to the ripe old age of 30 and Ruby attempts to plan a surprise birthday party for her sister. The lives of Rose and Ruby might make the reader rethink what it means to be independent, brave and strong. The girls are true survivors and heroines, determined to live life to it's fullest and not as sideshow freaks mind you! Rose muses, "There has never been a possibility of my being separated from Ruby. We have know it could not be, and declared that ever if we could, we wouldn't."

The author has strong empathy for her characters as she describes their lives, family, friends and neighbours. The characters are well developed and very believable. As a point of special interest, the author was born and raised in Chatham and also wrote the critically aclaimed novel Rush Home Road. She slips in the local charm and references locations and landmarks from her "neck of the woods". As I was reading, I just kept thinking that there's so many layers to Lansen's writing. Chronologically speaking, there's a bit more jumping around than I would have liked to have experienced, a sort of reading turbulance, but nonetheless a worthwhile read. Touching and hilarious at times, The Girls is like a rare flower or gem to be cherished and admired just like Rose and Ruby. Their connection isn't purely of a physical nature but a deeper, entwined meshing of their souls. How fortunate it would be to share such a bond! Whether a life is considered ordinary or extraordinary, just being human is our shared experience and we're all connected in some way afterall.
Something to think about...

Wanda Lynne Young

Tête-à-tête will be published in the March '08 issue of Real Women Magazine in the Reader's Corner column.