Novel: Gemini by Sonya Mukherjee | Goodreads
Release Date: July 26, 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
In a powerful and daring debut novel, Sonya Mukherjee shares the story of sisters Clara and Hailey, conjoined twins who are learning what it means to be truly extraordinary.
Seventeen-year-old conjoined twins Clara and Hailey have lived in the same small town their entire lives—no one stares at them anymore. But there are cracks in their quiet existence, and they’re slowly becoming more apparent. Clara and Hailey are at a crossroads. Clara wants to stay close to home, avoid all attention, and study the night sky. Hailey wants to travel the world, learn from great artists, and dance with mysterious boys. As high school graduation approaches, each twin must untangle her dreams from her sister’s, and figure out what it means to be her own person.
Told in alternating perspectives, this unconventional coming-of-age tale shows how dreams can break your heart—but the love between sisters can mend it.
When I was little, I used to get overwhelmingly annoyed when people asked me “what it was like” to be a twin. What’s it like to NOT be a twin? What’s it like to NOT get compared in everything you do, have someone with your face, be dressed identically for the first six years of your life? I grew up for a long time always dealing with people treating me like half of a unit rather than my own self, like I was somehow not an entire person. Granted, my struggles were (obviously) less pronounced than that of the protagonists, but I still always simultaneously battled and embraced certain parts of being a twin. Even now, some parts of our relationship can be pretty complex: compromise, friendships, family dynamics, sharing.
So I’m pretty picky about my twin books – as an identical twin, I’m sensitive to people doing it well – but I encountered something I never had before in YA lit with Gemini: conjoined twins. Clearly, I have no authority on the subject to assert whether or not Mukherjee portrayed them accurately, or well. But speaking with what limited perspective I have as someone whose identity has been so closely twined with another’s, I thought she did a lovely job of distinguishing and developing complex struggles of individuality.
Told in two perspectives, Gemini deftly switches between Hailey and Clara, illuminating and prodding aspects of their lives. The differing chapters effortlessly illustrate the limbo that the girls find themselves in, covering aspects of the other that create three-dimensional, thoughtful characters who I ended up rooting for throughout. Each one clearly loves the other – a dominant aspect of their world – but also stumbled through the guilt, shame, and irritation of coming-of-age in a situation where they couldn’t ever truly be the version of themselves that they envisioned as independent. Certain realities were forever shuttered to them.
The girls grew up in a small town where they never had to be around new people, where they could ask for accommodations and settle down without the prying, incisive eyes of the outside world. What’s more, they know they’re going to stay there: go to the local college their parents work at, hopefully compromise on some living habits, and grow up.I’ve never particularly had a reason to think about the day-to-day struggles of being conjoined before now. Special furniture, compromising on classes and actions, romances, public outings, etc,. Gemini tackles these with poise.
The twins also know that they’re going to be lonely. The obvious question is: how can you be lonely with another girl sticking out of your back? But it’s more subtle than that. They know they can never have kids. They know that it’ll be incredibly difficult for them to date, if they ever do. What’s more, what could it ever lead to? They walk incredibly subtle lines throughout the course of their senior year.
I loved that despite their relative security, they still dealt with the swirling confusion and transition of senior year. Even, as the twins point out, they could get into any college they wanted but still faced the prospect of being gawked at or hawked for their “courage” and “bravery”. The ambiguity of senior year is something that even most contemporaries have some difficulty with. I was plunged into my senior year not knowing how hard it could be to not understand what you wanted, and how to deal with the pressure of independence and validation. So I was glad to see Gemini cover that, to have small questions always linger in the background. What if they got the surgery? What if they left? How could they go the rest of their lives knowing they were different, never getting the luxury of blending in?
This is a book about relationships, but only a few of those being romantic. Hailey and Clara had a delicate balancing act with each other. They had a unique dynamic with their parents, who hovered and frustrated and comforted in a range of realistic, quiet contexts and actions. Even their friendships varied as certain people assumed protective instincts and insecurities, still retaining the heartwarming features that made the book feel fresh and touching.
First of all, I loved their relationship with their parents. Their mother was anxious and overprotective, often infringing on their territory and restricting their independence; however, you knew that she only meant the best for them and was trying to shield them from the outside world. She cried over conjoined twins who were separated, and repeated often – as if to reassure herself – that she made the right call in keeping them together. Their dad was a bit more empathetic towards their personal crises, but still ultimately wanted to make things easier on their mother. He knew the full story, and wanted to keep everyone from driving each other crazy with codependence. I thought Mukherjee did a marvelous job with the family structuring.
The plot itself is pretty casual, simply weaving together a portrait of this time in the girls’ lives. It’s never anything too pressing or upending. It’s pretty reflective – a serene, poised look at the day-to-day difficulties and identities of the family. They have crushes and friendship issues and school questions: balanced in a way that would even be successful in a “regular” contemporary. Loved Clara’s love for the stars; loved Hailey’s fierceness about art. (Also, loved that Mukherjee wasn’t afraid to make them similar – twins don’t have to be polar opposites either!)
I must admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of the way particular parts of the plot were ended, but I recognized the realism and thoughtfulness that must have gone into that. I was a huge fan of the characters, and the way they (and their relationships) evolved over the course of the book. Overall, I thought Gemini was a surprisingly delicate, poignant read with a lot to say.