We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 20, 2014
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In history there have been numerous attempts at an experiment where a chimpanzee is raised as a human child, though only a few where the ape was raised alongside a human child of the same age, as a sort of twin. In the book We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, the narrator, Rosemary leads the reader through a compelling tale of her life with, and without, her own sister: Fern.

Rosemary and Fern were raised together as equals, they shared everything: food, clothing, toys, and always their family’s affection. The two girls spent the first five years of their lives in perfect synchronicity, they were each others shadows, Rosemary loved Fern as any girl would love her sister: unconditionally. Their story could have been the triumph of bridging the gap between human and animal, if Fern had not been ripped from her sister’s life just before they turned six. This event sent the family into turmoil, they had lost a daughter, a sister, the greatest source of joy in their lives. Rosemary’s brother is so upset he disappears, for weeks, then months, and then ten years with only the occasional post-card, always brief, unspecific and unsigned. Both sisters are both caught in a state of unrest, halfway between human and animal, both missing their shadow, their other halves. Rosemary’s story, and Fern’s, is told in painful honesty, marked by spots of humor and a constant undertone of the loss and longing, loving someone will cause.

This book made me question the constant superiority humans feel towards their fellow animals. The narration is incredibly human and full of the agony that someone experiences upon realizing any truth, it pulls you through pages of plot twists and Rosemary’s neverending journey towards herself and her twin. Fern became human to me, as much as anyone can be, and losing her over and over again pulled me out of my own foolish humanity. This book planted my own sister back in my heart, as well as animal nature, and compassion.

This book should be read by anyone who has ever tapped on the glass at a zoo, held the bark on a tree, loved (anything), been forgotten, neglected to call their families, spent any time in a jail cell, or pondered a red poker chip.

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