Wednesday 20 January 2016


I'm not really sure why I became so desperate to read One, a book I hadn't really heard of all that much. I did see it on a number of end of year lists out of Britain. Actually I do think this one from the Guardian may have tipped me over the edge. Various authors recommended it- including Katherine Rundell (who is high on my To Read radar herself, and who had many recommendations of her latest The Wolf Wilder on the list). Who can go past this:

Mine is One, by Sarah Crossan. It's a book that shouldn't be possible- a blank verse novel about conjoined twins that never once dips into sentimentality- but Sarah Crossan makes it look so easy. It's a book about love, and courage, and I adored it.
I've come so far in my Verse Novel Journey that this was an added incentive, and soon it was landing on my doorstep. Perhaps because it featured so much on an English list I thought it was an English book. But it most definitely isn't. One is set in Hoboken, New Jersey. I see now that Sarah Crossan was born in Dublin, and currently lives in England, but she did live in New York while working as an English teacher before she became a full time writer. I believe that her other books are set in the UK, I wonder why One is set in America then?

Grace and Tippi are 16 year old conjoined twins who have been homeschooled to hide them from society's prying, and often cruel, eyes. But now the family circumstances have changed and the girls need to go to school for the first time. Hoping that it won't be terrible, hoping to make friends, even perhaps hoping to find love. 

'Are you kidding?
You are normal.
And normal is good.
Normal is my goal,'
I tell him.
The story was always relatable even though unusual, and the characters, especially Grace and Tippi were well written, our narrator Grace was clearly her own persona, and different from her sister. There were just too many issues for my liking. Everyone in the twins immediate family had major stuff going on. So did their friends. While perhaps we all do have our own stuff, it just seemed a bit much at times. One is not Sarah Crossan's first novel in verse, it seems that The Weight of Water was also a verse novel, she also writes in prose. She started One in prose, but it wasn't working, even after 30,000 words, until she swapped to verse. 

Conjoined twins are a rare phenomenon, and not something I've thought about all that often. Every now and then a set of twins will come to prominence as efforts are made to separate them, although sometimes this is not possible of course. I've never thought about what it would be like to be conjoined. I don't think it's something that is actually all that easy to imagine but One gives us some small insight into the internal world of conjoined twins. And even the ethics of it all. 

Gorgeous people strut down catwalks
in dresses made of string
loll half naked on sandy beaches
and no one seems to mind
that they do this for money
no one finds it
at all. 
But when Tippi and I consider cashing in on our
everyone frowns.

In an Author's Note at the back of the book Sarah Crossan says that she modelled the physiology of Grace and Tippi on the bodies of Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyapova, particularly tragic Russian conjoined twins, taken from their mother in 1950 Russia, who were to live a tragic life and die of alcoholism. Although, Sarah tells us

It might be astounding to a singleton, but conjoined twins do not see themselves or their lives as tragedies. 
Grace tells us too. 

It really isn't so bad.
It's how it's always been. 
Two of Sarah's previous books The Weight of Water and Apple and Rain were nominated for The Carnegie Medal. Clearly she is an author to explore.

Update June 2016 One has won the 2016 Carnegie Medal.

1 comment:

Brona said...

I'm so glad to see you've discovered Sarah Crossan too.
I loved The Weight of Water, but a story about conjoined twins hasn't really jumped out at me this time, so I'm glad to read your review instead :-)