Review: The Girls by Lori Lansens

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.

15 Responses

  1. You aren’t alone with your critique. I had eleven women at my house for our author chat with Ms. Lansens and quite a few thought the book was very long (or slow moving). I actually read it twice and I remember not loving it the first time either. Good review though! 🙂

  2. this book is on my TBR shelf (well, many shelves), and I’m slightly disappointed to read your review, but like you said, many other people enjoyed it. So hopefully whenever I get around to it I will find out whether I agree or disagree with you! Thanks for your review. 🙂

    • Myself , I have just completed it, and thoroughly enjoyed it… I think because of the dat and age we live in, it takes so much to keep our interest, that unless there are major crises going on, people are bored. I read the book as if these girls were sitting in my kitchen and I was having a coffee with them… of course the book is not all about the oddities of their situation, it is about how they cope with their everyday lives, etc. If you’re reading the book to read about two wierdos, you’re going to be very disappointed, because of the nurse and husband who raised them, they know nothing else other than the life they have lived, which to them is “normal”, until they go out into the world…. I loved the book and it’s one of the few I’ve read (and I read a lot), that I’d like to read again

  3. I loved the book, and I didn’t hate your review. Because even if you didn’t love it, you didn’t trash it.

    I was into it, from the very beginning. I loved the style and the story.

    But you kind of make me want to read it again. Just to make sure I still love it. I’m always a little afraid to re-read a book I’ve LOVED though. Because what if it was circumstantial? What if I loved it because of something outside rather than the book? What if I don’t still love it?

    Not that I’m a little neurotic about books or anything. That would be silly. 🙂

  4. Interesting. I noticed that you were stuck on The Girls for quite a while…I was wondering why you weren’t blasting through it! 🙂

  5. I really liked this book, but what I really like and appreciate is your honesty in your review. So many times I don’t finish books I’m not enjoying so my hat is off to you.

  6. Reading your review has made me think twice about this book: why write about people with such a rare abnormality, if you’re not going to address the difficulties it causes in their lives? But I still am curious enough I’m going to give it a read, myself.

  7. Hi everybody, thanks for the comments. Jeane, there was some mention of the difficulties, of course. For instance, the first paragraph says, “I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone… .. . never a private talk. Or solo walk…. ” etc. It just seemed to me like there should have been more of that in the book, an expansion of those kinds of thoughts and feelings. Instead of trying to make them seem so average I wished the author would have focused more on how different and special they were.

  8. Interesting that you found it to be about “two ordinary girls” because that is how I saw it. I thought that it was fascinating that their conjoinedness placed such a small part in the story.

    However, one of the members of my book group was highly incensed that Lansens told a story that she had no right to tell. This reader felt Lansens should have either given credit to whatever sources she had read on being conjoined OR not told the story at all.

    I found that to be an interesting way to look at the book.

    I am not sorry that I read The Girls, but I am not sure I will go out of my way to recommend it. Thanks for your review – very well thought out.


  9. I’ve been dying to watch the movie! (P.S. I Love You)

    Nice review.
    I’ve been looking forward to reading this book myself.

  10. The idea of their physical problems showing up so little in the book and having such a small impact on their lives would be hard for me to swallow as well.

  11. […] “I have never looked into my sister’s eyes.”  The Girls by Lori Lansens (reviewed HERE) […]

  12. I’m in the middle of the book, “Girls”. At this point I’m experiencing the book as a love story. It’s not a story of unrequited love, but of love fulfilled, so I’ve been able to go w/the flow pretty easily – taking the girls’ word for it when they speak of the small world they live in as sufficient and complete. Although Rose does fantasize a life w/out Ruby .. living in her own place, bathing in her own tub w/as many lit candles as the boyfriends she imagines, she willingly returns to what’s hers to love. And she loves because she accepts what’s hers.

    What I have found fantastic is that Aunt Lovey was able to adopt the twins so easily. Didn’t the grandparents have any say in the matter?!

    Anyway, I’ll leave that more factual stuff aside and go back and finish reading the book as an allegory – which is what I’m thinking it’s meant to be read as.

  13. I have to say that I absolutely loved, loved, loved this book! I’m very surprised by the comments I’ve read here.

    Regarding the lack of mention of physical problems, I don’t think I’d enjoy the book if all Rose and Ruby did was complain about their situation. The fact that they did not think that was the point of their lives was, I think, the point of the story.

    I’m sure that there would have been no one arguing about Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stach adopting them. Who would want to take on the burden of these girls? Not to mention that the mother never gave her real name and took off in the night. Also, Ruby and Rose were babies when this all happened so maybe there was a fight but they were spared the details. You have to remember that it is supposed to be an autobiography and these two ladies did not want sympathy. Why would they focus their autobiography on the negative things in their lives? They wanted to be remembered as regular girls with an irregular situation.

    At the end of the book (my copy anyway) Ms. Lansens does cite the many resources she used. If we are to expect people to only write stories they are “entitled to write” the world would be short many, many, many great books!

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