Book Review: Once Two Sisters by Sarah Warburton
Once two sisters were born to a pair of clinical psychologists whose life’s work was figuring out how to help the US government most effectively extract information from prisoners. Torture, not to put too fine a point on it. The parents kept their work separate from their home lives, but it takes a certain kind of person to do this work… and it’s a not a person who makes a good parent. This is a story about the children who grew up with people who shouldn’t be parents, about Ava and Zoe who had to try to figure out on their own how to be decent human beings with a conscience.
We start the story in Zoe’s POV, where she is living with her husband and stepdaughter in Texas under a new name after having fled her old life… because Ava made it an absolute misery. I have to say Ava came off a terrible person as well - what kind of person writes her younger sister, still in school, into a novel as a villain, and barely disguises her identity? And then Ava compounded the offence by repeatedly using details of Zoe’s life in her novels, always as characteristics of antagonists. Frankly, it’s no wonder Zoe wanted to get back at Ava; having a relationship with a man Ava had dumped was perfectly understandable… and then Ava snatched him back, devastating Zoe yet again. Then Ava goes missing, and Zoe knows she’s going to be blamed even though she was in another state, because someone’s obviously trying to frame her.
The relationship between Zoe and Ava is so twisted; we got quite a few chapters in Ava’s POV too and while I felt sorry for her as she was kidnapped and taken into a terrible situation, I still never understood her; what drove her to write her sister into her books as an antagonist? To stalk Zoe’s life and fictionalize it for money? I’m not on good terms with my own sisters, but that’s just beyond the pale, and I was astounded when the resolution of the book saw the two coming to a tentative sort of truce.
There are some shocking reveals here, but not really any twists; everything is laid out and logical, a progression through the story, but something felt weirdly disconnected to me. I think it was because the villain actually had a problem with their parents and the sisters were really tangential to that story, just the victims of it. I enjoyed the story, but I’d have liked the two stories better integrated together, and I’d have really liked a better understanding of why Ava betrayed Zoe’s trust so completely and repeatedly. Four stars.
Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.