Book Review: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Goodreads: My Sister, The Serial Killer
Genre: Crime-Thriller-Mystery, Africa, Contemporary Fiction
Rating: ★★★½ (out of 5)

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One evening, Korede gets a call from her younger sister Ayoola asking for her help. It’s a call she hoped she’d never receive again but, you know, life. Ayoola has killed another man and so Korede takes her cleaning supplies and goes to help her sister cover up a crime she claims was an act of self-defense. Does Korede believe her sister—even after three men have now died by Ayoola’s hand—or does she do something about it? Korede loves Ayoola, but she also wonders how her sister ended up this way–does she have more of their abusive father’s blood running through her veins, compared to Korede? Although she is fraught with worry about being found out, Korede is convinced the police don’t need to be involved; that is, until the day Ayoola attracts the attention of the man Korede loves and she finds herself torn between obligation to her sister, and a moral duty to not only protect the man she loves, but all the menfolk of Nigeria.

“Have you heard this one before? Two girls walk into a room. The room is in a flat. The flat is on the third floor. In the room is the dead body of an adult male. How do they get the body to the ground floor without being seen?”

I want to start by saying that I love the title and cover of this book. Not only is the cover eye-catching, but the title definitely piqued my interest and these elements alone were enough to convince me to read it! I had also seen it a few times on bookstagram this year, so there was additional interest generated from positive reviews, and I was definitely ready to pick it up.

Oyinkan Braithwaite writes a compelling novel that explores the complicated relationship between sisters, the moral dilemmas that come from being complicit in a crime and male impropriety that spans across cultures. The big question she was posed though was: Just how far would you go to protect the one(s) you love?

This was a fast and easy read filled with lots of dark humor, which left me laughing out loud just as often as I’d mumble with disappointment at Korede’s enabling and be appalled at Ayoola’s remorseless and sociopathic tendencies. I found the novel’s exploration of male impropriety rather amusing, actually. All the men in the book had little to no character outside from being caught in Ayoola’s orbit. She was the ‘centre of everyone’s universe’ and it didn’t matter that she was fickle, narcissistic, a cheater, and cared for little other than herself, men loved and wanted her because she was beautiful. Ayoola had it right, “all they want is a pretty face”, but this pretty face knew that and used it to her advantage, and clearly, to their detriment. Although, to be fair, even the women were enraptured by Ayoola’s beauty, so maybe the issue is more about society’s acceptance of beauty on the outside, excusing the ugly on the inside? Because in this book that outer beauty literally lets you get away with murder.

The most enjoyable part of the book for me was in the realness of sibling relationships, particularly between sisters. No matter how much you care for your sibling and no matter how well you get along, there are always feelings of insecurity, jealousy, and bitterness, but also of love and the overpowering need to protect and defend. Korede’s struggle to reconcile her morals with being a big sister whose instinct is to protect her little sister, captured the complexity of these relationships very well. As much as she felt bitterness and jealousy towards Ayoola for her beauty and for having a relationship with the man she loved, Korede never seriously thought of exposing her sister to the public, no matter how desperate she was to do so. That said, their relationship was very messed up and there was a lot of underlying resentment and obvious manipulation between the two.

What I struggled with the were the characters because I didn’t particularly like any of them. I wonder if that was done purposefully because they all had highly unfavorable character traits that made it difficult to find any redeeming qualities in them. Most of the times I wanted to slap them really hard in the faces and shake them “awake”.

Ayoola, as princess of the family, has gotten away with everything her whole life because of her looks. She’s conceited, narcissistic, and selfish (also, a serial killer) and takes everything for granted. It was astounding that even in the face of getting caught, she so vehemently denied any wrongdoing by spinning absurds tale that everyone seemed to believe because of her extraordinary beauty. Korede’s character was even worse because of how she enabled Ayoola by falling into the same ‘trap’ she criticized everyone else for. Despite knowing the manipulative nature of her sister, she still allowed herself to be taken advantage of and constantly stepped on. Although at times I felt sorry for her because of that, Korede had such a cold and impersonal, ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards everyone—boxing herself off from those who could have potentially been her allies—that it rubbed me the wrong way and made it difficult to feel sympathy for her character. The men, especially dreamy Dr. Tade, were thoughtless and shallow. Apparently, all men really care about are your looks and you can cheat, act crazy, be cold and heartless until it suits you to be warm, as much as you want as long as you’re beautiful. Even a brilliant, charming doctor is not exempt.

“We are hard wired to protect and remain loyal to the people we love. Besides, no one is innocent in this world. …’The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.’”

I honestly thought that Korede would take a different route, especially after the (unsurprising) climax, so that was a bit of a letdown. But despite the unlikeable characters, I still enjoyed this read—which is rare for me to say because characters are everything! I do still feel like certain elements could have been explored better to give the book some more meat. Overall though, I thought this was a great debut by Braithwaite, that presents a daring, funny, but dark family drama that explored larger elements which other readers can perhaps relate to.

Have you read My Sister, the Serial Killer or is it on your TBR?

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