Review: ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler

16176440Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man.

And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined.

[From Goodreads]

Book details

Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 9780399162091

Publisher: GP Putnam’s Sons

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Review

Writing this review without giving away the plot twist has proven to be extremely problematic. Karen Joy Fowler is without a doubt the master of the plot twist – I never even saw it coming, and when it finally arrived it was a punch in the gut, leaving me breathless and confused. I believe I had to reread the passage quite a few times before it finally sunk in.

Once you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but for now let me attempt this review as best I can without giving anything away.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is phenomenal. It’s phenomenal and heartbreaking and bizarre and absolutely hilarious all at once, and that’s what makes it one of the best novels of the year. Not to mention the pure intelligence behind the writing; it always helps to read a book that doesn’t make you feel like you’ve dumbed down your intelligence a bit just to be able to enjoy it.

Although to me these things were just the glitter glue on the macaroni jewellery, because the thing that made me love this book so much was the was Fowler just gets the whole sibling rivalry concept. She understands what it’s like to feel annoyed and jealous and helpless all at the same time. She understands what it’s like to love somebody unconditionally while simultaneously wanting to punch them in the face. She understands the inability to express anger at parents who are doing their best to share their love absolutely equally, but still falling just short in certain circumstances. And what makes the book worth reading is her understanding of what it means to be a sibling coupled with her brilliant ability to put it into words.

There are few books that I’ll willingly recommend to everybody. Of course, I’ll always say that The Hunger Games is a must read for the entire population, but realistically I don’t feel so strongly about it that I’m going to seek out the misfortunate few that refuse to come into contact with the trilogy and force them to listen while I diligently recite a practiced speech on why it is a series crucial to the understanding of the human psyche. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, however, might just be that one book I’ll be prepared to read to seemingly illiterate teens and young adults in my spare time. (And that’s a big ask. Have you ever tried to force a social media-frenzied seventeen-year-old to read a novel that doesn’t include a drastic, dramatic love triangle? It’s one of those experiences that belong in the depths of Hell.)

5 stars

Rating: 5/5

Recommended to: Everyone, everyone, everyone.

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The Last Word

Honestly, though, I’m judging you if you choose not to read this book. Fowler has a deep understanding of human behavior and emotions, but she expresses it in a way that’s easily understandable for the not so biologically inclined, like myself. Once you work your way below her intelligently crafted layer of humor, there’s some deep, intellectual commentary that will make you view people a little differently if you choose to look into it. If you choose not to look into it, the novel still substitutes as a hilariously entertaining read that’s just long enough to satisfy the readers who classify themselves as “avid”, and yet not so long to intimidate those who “don’t read”. So, realistically, you have no excuses. Read past page seventy-seven, and then you are free to tell me why you tried it, you did not like it, and you thought my recommendation was horrible.

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