On a fateful day in 1974, young Larry Merkel becomes the first casualty of a giant tornado that touches down in the small town of Leaford in
southern Ontario. Even more out of the ordinary is the precipitous arrival of Ruby and Rose Darlen - the world's longest surviving conjoined craniopagus twins.
With their mother allegedly dying alone in Toronto of sepsis eight weeks postpartum, Aunt Lovey, a kindly overweight nurse, falls in love with these fragile and delicate young girls and adopts them. Together with her Canadian-Slovakian husband, she raises them on their bucolic and isolated farm, trying to give them
lvies as normal as possible.
Taught by Aunt Lovey and Uncle Stash to be independent, the girls pour themselves into school and helping out around the farm. As adults, they work at the local library, shelving books and reading to school groups. Rose discovers she has a talent for writing and embarks on a novel about her life, and
Aunt Lovey tells her to write her story fearlessly, "not just as a conjoined twin but as a human being and as a woman."
Although a rather mediocre student, Ruby develops an interest in local Indian archeology and enjoys watching American sitcoms, but her pleasure
in life is tempered by her chronic gastrointestinal troubles. The drama unfolds as the two girls race against time to tell their story: now
twenty-nine and constantly plagued by headaches, their lives are threatened by the tangled veins in their heads.
An aneurysm in Rose's brain may kill them both.
Rose's intellectual diligence eventually pays off, and the book is written - with the odd passage or two
contributed by Ruby – and the true natures of these amazing girls are gradually bought to life. It's an existence habitually fraught with heartache and longing.
Their lives have been at times isolated and strange, but also a world full of love, travel, work, and even sex.
Empathetic and compassionate, author Lori Lansens has meticulously researched the lives of craniopagus twins. Full of enthusiasm and purpose, there's no doubt the author’s appeal for understanding and for public awareness is always fervent and incisive. Bit by bit, she steadily reveals Rose and Ruby's inner world, shedding back the layers and exposing all their hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities.
Throughout the course of the novel, Rose learns the hard lesson that life isn't always fair, even less
so for a girl who is attached to her sister. The more fully formed and, for the most part, the healthier of the two, Rose often threatens to sink under the weight of worry, "humming some secret place into being," where she ponders what it might be like to be her own woman, this other girl only she can see.
Although Rose and Ruby deeply love each other - and are connected with an energy that is not only physical but also acutely spiritual - there
is a real sense of longing for what it might have been like to live a life separate, where there
is "a girl called She, who is not We, the girl who sadly Rose or Ruby will never be."
Lansens has written a deeply heartfelt novel. Her heroines may be physically flawed, but as judgment day nears and their illness begins to take its toll, Rose and Ruby are able to transcend the strictures of their bodies, ultimately emboldened by the creation of a unique and extraordinary life together.