The Girls by Lori Lansens is a fictional autobiography of Rose and Ruby Darlen, who at 29 are the oldest living conjoined twins in history. They share a vital vein in the head and can never be separated.
The story is written by Rose, the more bookish twin, with some chapters contributed by Ruby at Rose’s request. Those chapters are in a different font and easily distinguishable in tone as well as visually. Ruby’s chapters are more down to earth and practical, feeling more like journal entries, quite in contrast to Rose’s more literary prose. Ruby is straightforward and says things Rose isn’t quite ready to say.
The twins are born during a tornado, a remarkable birth during a remarkable event. Their mother is an unwed teen who abandons them shortly after their birth. They are adopted and lovingly raised by their nurse, Aunt Lovey, and her husband, Uncle Stash.
Growing up, they are sheltered by their parents and community and treated like any other children, which to me rang a little false. They are just average girls, and, oh yeah, they’re joined at the head. Ruby is much smaller, with club feet, and Rose literally carries her everywhere, yet there is no mention of backaches, walking problems, neck strain, etc. She walks just fine through the majority of the book. Rose has a relatively normal body but a distorted mouth and face, while Ruby has a normal, even pretty, face with a deformed body.
Their childhood is spent on a farm where Ruby has a special knack for finding Indian artifacts in the soil. She amasses a museum worthy collection. They go to a regular school where Rose is an excellent student, although Ruby is “intellectually lazy”. They have friends and relationships and a loving family. They grow up and have jobs. Everyone is accepting. Everything seems very normal. Rose decides to write her autobiography after she is diagnosed with an inoperable brain aneurysm, which will, of course, kill them both.
The book is well written and the author created memorable characters, and yet.. this book felt so long to me (it’s only 352 pages). I couldn’t read more than a few pages at a time without getting bored and wanting to do something else. I stopped reading it twice to read other things. I’m not sure why. There are sweet moments, like when the girls tug on each other’s earlobes to say goodnight or I love you. The pace wasn’t slow, but I think the novelty of who the girls were kind of wore off halfway through and then it was just a story of two girls having ordinary interactions with ordinary people. It became a bit tedious. I think I would have been more interested in learning something about their unique challenges as conjoined twins, a condition so rare I’ve never actually seen a pair except on television. Something about the frustration of never, ever being truly alone, the utter lack of privacy, the challenges of everyday things like using the bathroom, etc. would have gone a long way in making this a more interesting read. I feel bad saying that because I know a lot of people really love this book, but for me, it was just ok.
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