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Between Sisters by Adwoa Badoe

Title: Between Sisters
Author: Adwoa Badoe
Pages: 202
First Sentence: Not’ing wonders God.

Between Sisters stars Gloria, a teenage girl living in Ghana who fails almost all her exams and is sent to live with a distant relative, Christine, who is a doctor and needs someone to help out around the house and care for her young son. Gloria has been living in a small town, and when she moves in with Christine she's suddenly exposed to a big city, and her new best friend, Bea, is not the best influence ever. The story was definitely engaging and it brought up a lot of really thought-provoking issues and questions, which I'll talk more about under the spoiler-cut. As far as non-spoilery things go, I thought that Gloria was a good character, and the mistakes she makes are understandable, although at times I kind of wanted to jump into the book and shake her. At times I wished she had a little more drive or ambition of the non-marry-rich variety, but honestly, I thought she was realistic. I certainly didn't know what I wanted to do with myself at 16. I also thought that the book did a good job of walking the line between showing how AIDS was a big issue and constant specter, but without making into the whole story - it was just another part of Gloria's coming-of-age. Although I thought the book really was quite good, and would recommend it, there were some things that I either wanted to go into more, or wasn't sure how to feel about. And for that we will go under the spoiler-cut!

First things first (and to be double-sure no one is reading this by accident, I am about to discuss a MAJOR SPOILER for the VERY END OF THE BOOK so stay away if that will bother you!) - I wasn't sure what to make of Bea's death by botched abortion. I mean, I could tell that Bea was not heading anyplace good, but this was really severe, and it kind of shocked me. The thing that bothered me was that I was afraid it played too much like an old-fashioned morality play - fast woman who is a bad influence dies because of her own wicked ways so the rest of the cast doesn't have to deal with her, aside from a eulogizing paragraph or two. This is possibly an unfair association - after all, Gloria falls in with older men as well, although she never steals, etc. However, in a way Gloria was just lucky - her skeevy older guy always made sure to use a condom. If he hadn't, even though Gloria knows better I just don't see her insisting on one. And if she became pregnant and desperate, who knows what she might have done? So really, I just don't know what to make of Bea's end. I suppose part of my puzzlement is that I just really didn't see it coming; I suspected she was sexually active with older men, but I imagined her money troubles came from her tendency to buy things on credit. I had no idea the sort of trouble she was in. That's not to say the end was *bad*, just that it shocked me, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

The other thing that I wasn't sure what to make of was the relationship between Christine and Gloria. The pull-quote on the back cover is "I remembered my old fights with Effie [Gloria's biological sister]. No matter what I did or where I lived, we would always be sisters. But Christine was my sister only as long as I pleased her." Because of this quote, when I started the book, I thought that a serious point of tension throughout would come from that relationship, in particular because of how dependent Gloria is on Christine. There are some hints of this. At one point Bea tells Gloria that everyone laughs at her because she works all the time for Christine, but never gets paid anything. At another point, when Christine thinks that Gloria has stolen from her, her husband points out that they don't pay Gloria anything, and this might be part of the problem. But this doesn't really go anywhere; Christine never acknowledges that she really ought to be paying Gloria for all the work she does, and certainly never begins paying her. Gloria never even starts to think that it's wrong for her to do all this work without pay. Part of the reason for this might be that we're prompted to look at the relationship not as employer-employee, but as family. Gloria calls Christine 'Sistah', and the title of the book (Between Sisters) hits this home as well. Christine takes a genuine interest in Gloria, giving her advice, teaching her to read, and even doing affectionate things like massaging her scalp after Gloria has had her hair newly and perhaps too-tightly braided. But, as the pull-quote reminds us, Gloria and Christine *aren't* sisters, and Christine very nearly sends Gloria away when her money goes missing, and never apologizes for accusing or disbelieving her when they realize Bea is the real thief. Christine is in a position where she could abuse Gloria, but she doesn't; we eventually learn that she actually has been putting money aside to send Gloria to school, and she even finally agrees to take Gloria with her when Christine joins her husband in England. So we are presented an inherently exploitative situation portrayed as genuinely warm and affectionate. I just don't know what to make of it. It's all more complicated because the author's bio describes Adwoa Badoe as a woman who was born and raised in Ghana and became a doctor, which almost invites the reader to consider Christine as a stand-in for Badoe (I know, I know, it's unfair, but it did cross my mind). I'm pretty conflicted about the whole thing, but it certainly provokes discussion, which is a sign of a good book, I think.

My last issue is stuff that wasn't resolved. We learn that Gloria's mother has become sick, and that 'they' (by which I assume they mean doctors) believe she has AIDS. Christine and Gloria rush back to the village, and Gloria's mother's condition improves once she is put on medication. Effie insists that she doesn't *really* think their mother could have AIDS, but as a reader I don't believe Effie's protestations for an instant. Gloria wonders what this means about their dad, and this train of thought is never followed up on. Does Gloria's father have HIV that hasn't yet blown up into AIDS? If not, did Gloria's mom have sex with someone other than her husband? If she got it from the dad, was he unfaithful? Or was it a blood transfusion or something? It bothered me that we never got any sort of resolution to this issue. Another thing that bugged me was that when Gloria is drawn into buying expensive clothing on credit, I felt certain that this would come back to bite her and Bea both. But in spite of all the discussion of the hundreds of thousands of cedi that Gloria owes, she never has money problems; her older boyfriend gives her money so she can pay back all her debts timely, and even Bea's problems don't come from the credit. It just nagged at me; I waited the whole book for the other shoe to drop and it never did.

Ultimately, I think that the book is an interesting one that provokes discussion. In spite of the fact that Gloria isn't really my sort of girl, being not at all bookish, and in fact borderline illiterate for most of the book, I still rooted for her and was eager to continue reading and find out what happened next. I just wish certain plot threads had been better resolved!

I'm behind on book reviews again; I *still* have to talk about All Clear, for instance. But I think I'm going to give it a rest for awhile.