I underestimated the power of My Sister, the Serial Killer before I read it. Its small size and flashy title led me to believe I was reading something light and “fun” (I use quotes because serial killers are not fun. And I say that as a lover of My Favorite Murder), but I was quickly convinced otherwise. Braithwaite’s writing is clear and to the point, laying out exactly what happens with little metaphor, but simultaneously has many layers to strip back to get a full picture of the story.
Korede takes being a protective big sister to the next level. I love my younger brother, but I cannot imagine myself covering for and cleaning up after him after he killed multiple people (sorry, bro, you’re on your own there). Korede’s behavior was even more confusing to me once I learned more about her relationship with Ayoola and how the world treats them. The blatant favoritism that everyone shows Ayoola was maddening to me, and I wanted to shake Korede for allowing it to happen. I think I was forgetting the power that internalized self-doubt or self-hatred can have on people, which is ridiculous because it is absolutely something I have allowed to get in my own way more than once.
This book reminded that women all over the world are judged by their looks and marital status, and it can be so easy to feel like a failure if you don’t achieve the expectations that others have set for you. It infuriated me to see these sisters pitted against each other because one is considered beautiful and the other is not. I’m having a hard time writing this, because it feels naïve and selfish to say that I needed a reminder of the struggles of women with different backgrounds than my own. But I think that it can be easy to get stuck in your own bubble and forget that the problems you are feeling can often be universal. I hope it’s not just me that feels this way.
When I read more about Korede and Ayoola’s childhood, the picture behind their relationship, and perhaps how they present themselves to the world, became clearer to me. I am not a psychologist nor do I have any training in mental health care, but I know enough about childhood trauma to understand that it has powerful influences on you throughout your life. I found myself sympathizing with, believe it or not, Ayoola the serial killer, wondering if this behavior was the result of childhood abuse and if she would have turned out this way had she gotten some professional support. Meanwhile, Korede’s straight-laced albeit somewhat quirky personality becomes more and more bizarre as the story continues. Her cleaning habits seemed like obsessive-compulsive disorder at first, but when I finished the book, I felt it was more than that. Maybe it’s her way of compartmentalizing and dealing with stress. Or perhaps she knows it’s one way she is helpful in a world that underappreciates her. Maybe it’s a little of both. Either way, I felt her priorities are skewed at the end as she maintains the status quo and allows Ayoola to continue her dangerous and lethal behavior. It might be that the life she has now with her mother and sister is the only one she can imagine having.
Speaking of that life, there is a final thought I wanted to noodle on, and that is how Korede addresses those who work for her. Her internal thoughts led me as the reader to believe that she considers herself to be above the other nurses and cleaners at the hospital. What struck me as even more arrogant is that she never addresses the family’s maid, or house girl, by her first name. Admittedly, I know nothing about Nigerian class structure, but it struck me as odd that I never learned this person’s name, even though she has a day-to-day role in Korede’s life. I cannot figure out if this is the standard attitude for people of this class, or if Korede is so wrapped up in her own head and family situation that she can’t be bothered to use this person’s name. If there is something I have learned in the Trump era, it is that just talking to someone from a different background can be an eye-opening experience that reminds you that we are all human, just trying to make things a little better for ourselves in this crazy world. Maybe if Korede was able to think that way and connect with other people, especially the women, around her, she might not feel so isolated and forge a path beyond her family.