Check out my latest review for Canadian publication Briarpatch Magazine (Yay Canada, my soon-to-be home!)
If as Tolstoy famously said, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, the family of Nalo Hopkinson’s latest novel, Sister Mine, is unhappy in a way particular to a black family of sassy demigods and headstrong humans. A complexly layered urban fantasy, Sister Mine explores the space between the spiritual and material, and the murky pool where these worlds bleed together. In this meeting of the divine and earthly, family dramas take on cosmic importance. So it is with Abby and Makeda, twin sisters, born conjoined and later separated, of a “celestial” father and a “claypicken” mother, who are sent on a treacherous mission to find and save their father’s soul.
Exuding threatening mafia undertones, the “Family” are divine beings, spirits who lurk in the crevices of the visible world, shuttling souls between life and death, controlling natural forces, and imbuing certain places and people with magic, shine, or mojo. “Claypicken” is the demigod term for humans, who are considered little more than meat puppets by most celestials. Abby and Makeda’s mixed celestial-claypicken heritage is complicated by the fact Abby seems the only sibling born with special powers.
The power difference between the sisters is a source of endless bickering and deep-seated resentments, as is the sisters’ very existence for the Family, who look down on celestial-claypicken couplings. In exploring the sisters’ relationship to their heritage, Hopkinson also addresses the nature of mixed-race identity. Belonging to two different cultures often means navigating between different worlds, a metaphor that is quite literal for Makeda and Abby.
Though both sisters struggle to find their place in the spirit and material world, Makeda in particular feels lost in her mixed identity because of her lack of powers. As we might imagine of a racist white family, demigods look down on their claypicken counterparts as beings meant only to serve and then be discarded. Raised around this kind of discrimination, Makeda develops a self-deprecatory shield, calling herself a “crippled deity half-breed,” while grasping at any connections to mojo she can find within herself.