My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is a chilling (but surprisingly funny) tale of sibling loyalty… and all its consequences.
What would you do if your sister kept killing off her boyfriends?
The first thing that caught my eye about My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite was perhaps one of the minor details of the novel: that it’s set in Lagos, Nigeria, featuring an entirely Nigerian cast of characters. It’s not the first setting you’d think of for a thrilling tale of murder and betrayal, thanks to our painfully inescapable US/Eurocentric mentality, so I picked it up right away, hungry for something different.
Of course, it’s a disservice to Braithwaite to reduce her novel to some kind of cultural study: it’s not (although both the modern and traditional elements of Nigerian culture are neither exoticized nor diminished, but skillfully woven into every scene). My Sister, the Serial Killer is a beautifully crafted story about a strong woman in a ridiculously terrible situation, and stands out among other books in its genre for its unique mix of suspense, comedy and drama.
The book follows Korede, a nurse and long-suffering caretaker of her infuriating family. Most infuriating of all is her younger sister, Ayoola — an unstoppable beauty that is blissfully unaware of her own selfishness. Korede has dedicated her life to cleaning up after her sister’s indiscretions, but lately things have taken a turn for the worse.
Ayoola has killed three of her ex-boyfriends, and Korede has helped her cover up every single murder. After all, no one can resist Ayoola’s charm — she least of all, as Ayoola’s constant protector since their traumatic childhood. But as Ayoola’s behavior becomes more and more erratic, and her eyes turn towards the man Korede has always harbored feelings for, things start to take a turn for the worst… and Korede might have to face a terrible decision.
The relationship between Korede and Ayoola is one of the most skillfully explored depictions of sisterly love out there. The dependence, frustration, but ultimately eternal love that bonds them together is something universal… and something painfully recognizable to older sisters everywhere! Add Ayoola’s elusive, diva attitude, which never quite seems to be driven by malice, and you are, like Korede, damned to love Ayoola forever, no matter what she does.
It’s refreshing to see women in these very complex roles, both strong characters in their own right. Shared trauma, as a result of abuse and merely by virtue of being born women, haunts Korede and Ayoola’s every decision — not only related to the murders, but to the social dynamics that come into play in romance, encounters with the police, and the workplace in general. And even if you aren’t a Nigerian woman yourself, and not familiar with the slang or social norms that Korede is, the feel of these situations is still painfully familiar.
No men really escape My Sister, the Serial Killer unscathed. If not physically hurt, the circumstances of the story result in proving the inherent lie in the way they treat the women they claim to love. Neither Korede nor Ayoola have patience for this; and in a way, they are both just trying to survive in a world that won’t stop trying to silence them… although their coping mechanisms are vastly different.
But that’s not to say that My Sister, the Serial Killer is dark and dreary. Far from it: Korede’s wry sense of humor and the vibrant picture — both funny and sometimes violent — Braithwaite paints with every scene make for one of the best reading experiences I’ve had in a while.
Braithwaite’s great talent is that she doesn’t waste words: her chapters might be just a sentence or two long, and something about a scene or a character will always elude you. She knows exactly how much she wants to tell, and won’t tell you any more than that. As a result, the book’s pacing is spot-on, and the mystery of what Ayoola will do next will keep you glued to the story.
The ending might not make everyone happy, but once you read it it’s clear that things could never have gone any other way, and the book is triumphant in its own right. Korede is, from the beginning to the end, fiercely believable and an incredibly strong character; and following her until the end of the book feels like an honor.