April 18, 2017

NemeSIS

Written by Susan Marshall
Blue Moon Publishers
978-1-988279-32-3
204 pp.
Ages 13+
April 2017

I know that sisters can be as close as best friends (I have a wonderful younger sister who is just this for me).  Sisters can be there to support you through familial strife and guide you through the uncertainties of growing up.  As the middle of three sisters, I know what can be but I also know what is.  Susan Marshall’s debut YA novel, as the name suggests, is about that tenuous relationship between sisters, a mixed bag of bullying and bond.

With her parents going through a marital separation, fifteen-year-old Nadine could certainly use the support of her older sister, Rachel.  But seventeen-year-old Rachel is too egocentric to see anything, including her parents’ separation, in any terms other than those related to her. Between her parents' separation, and Mom establishing a new life as a realtor, and Rachel vacillating (can you say moody?) between kind and cruel, Nadine needs someone in her corner.
Like Voldemort, Rachel was a monster of the dark arts.” (pg. 41)
While trying to avoid Rachel’s wrath, like the dumping of ice water on Nadine while she sleeps and plugging her nose with a clothespin (painful!), Nadine begins to adopt a plan of steps, similar to the AA twelve-step program, to help “dig herself out of the hole she was in.” (pg.  18) Undertaking to become part of the school and make a friend, she meets Anne Lavery,  new to Elgin High School, and younger sister of wildly popular senior Matt Lavery and his twin Cameron.  With that one step, Nadine’s life expands to include a lunch buddy, a love interest,
Cameron was the sun, and I was this speck of intergalactic dust being pulled toward him, close enough to bask in the warmth of his rays but not so close as to get burned” (pg. 35)
and a place on the field hockey team where she meets a new friend Mei.  But while Nadine’s relationship with Anne brings many positives into her life, it also draws Rachel’s attention.  Not surprising that the manipulative Rachel uses her sister’s friendship with Anne to get close to Matt but Rachel can’t decide whether to cultivate her relationship with Nadine to her own end or threaten the girl about keeping mum about her bullying of Nadine.  And what Nadine learns is that bullying is bullying, whether it is by a sister, a team mate or an opponent, and avoidance is not an effective option.

As a reader, I often wonder whether all writers have first hand knowledge of that which they write.  I’m pretty sure Susan Marshall knows something about sibling bullying, though she tempers the viciousness that can be had at the hands of an older sister.  Still, the psychological torment of bullying and trauma inflicted by Rachel, and other bullies in the story, are very real and impactful, and Susan Marshall makes it clear that dealing with bullies does not have one solution.  The confusion of dealing with a bully who could turn kind or cruel in a split second may be rationalized by mental health issues but the care with which they select when, where and how to inflict that cruelty suggests a psychopathy beyond moodiness.  I think Nadine is far more generous with her sister than other bullies and more than Rachel deserves but it’s amazing what you can forgive family.  Susan Marshall conveys all that mixed up turmoil of shame, anger, resolve,  and expectancy convincingly and still provides a guarantee that things can and do get better.  It may not be fast enough or easily enough for many victims of  bullying, sibling or otherwise, but when you have a NemeSIS, it’s a long-standing relationship that can come to an end with a shocking bang like it does for Mei and her bully, or a soft closing of a door, perhaps as it will be with Nadine and Rachel.  Go with the door.  It hurts less.

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