by Lori Lansens
Published by Knopf Canada
457 pages, 2005
Reviewed by Cherie Thiessen
Rose and Ruby Darlen are craniopagus twins born joined at the head in 1974. Their young, unmarried mother abandoned them as quickly as possible, but the nurse in attendance at their birth stepped in quickly to adopt the conjoined twins. In her 50s, childless and married to a gentle immigrant, she quickly undertook the challenge.
When the book begins, "the girls" are 29 and the oldest surviving craniopagus twins in the world. At its end they have entered but are unlikely to leave, their 30th year. Ruby is suffering more and more health problems. She's unsteady on her feet, suffers horrific headaches and is slowly going blind due to an aneurysm which is threatening to take the lives of both sisters at any time.
Ruby and Rose draw on a common blood supply: over a hundred veins as well as their skull bones are shared, making it impossible to separate them. In order to survive they must work as a team. If one dies, the other goes too.
Raise your right hand. Press the base of your palm to the lobe of your right ear. Cover your ear and fan out your fingers -- that's where my sister and I are affixed, our faces not quite side by side, our skulls fused together in a circular pattern running up the temple and curving around the frontal lobe. If you glance at us, you might think we're two women embracing ....
Ruby and Rose live with their "Aunt" Lovey and "Uncle" Stash in a rural Ontario farming community, a small town called Leaford in the Canadian prairies where they are known to most people simply as "the girls." Here they've gone to school, held part time jobs at the local library, pursued their interests and built relationships. They've suffered the loss of both of their beloved parents and learned to live on their own, and they've moved from the country to the town. Been normal, in other words.
Cherie Thiessen has been a scriptwriter, playwright, creative writing instructor and -- for the past 10 years -- a travel writer and book reviewer. She was the review columnist for Focus on Women Magazine for eight years and has also written numerous reviews for magazines including Monday Magazine, Pacific Yachting, Cottage Magazine, The Driftwood News, Linnear Reflections and Douglas College's Event Magazine.