Book Review: “Untwine” by Edwidge Danticat

When 16-year-old Giselle Boyer, her twin sister Isabelle, and their parents dash out of their house, stressed and trying to make it to Isabelle’s orchestra concert on time, little do they know that these are the last few moments of normalcy they’ll ever have. A car accident puts all four members of the Boyer family in the hospital and ends the life of one of them forever.

After these cataclysmic opening moments of Untwine, the next portion of the book is spent inside Giselle’s mind as she lies in the hospital, unable to communicate with her family and the hospital staff, not knowing the fate of her parents or sister. Eventually, she learns the terrible truth – that Isabelle died from her injuries. Through the rest of the book, we watch Giselle try to adjust to losing the one person who’s always been a part of her. It’s a painful journey, but it’s a beautiful one as well.

I really loved this book. Danticat’s writing is lyrical and compelling. The time spent inside Giselle’s head early in the narrative means that you really feel you know her and her life before she actually starts interacting with other characters and working through her pain. Another aspect of this book I really appreciated is that it isn’t 100% melancholy family drama – there are aspects of suspense and intrigue that help push the story along. And of course, I am always a fan of books that celebrate female family and friendship. Untwine is a novel that does so beautifully.

Giselle’s family, life, traditions, and above all, Giselle and Isabelle themselves, feel vibrantly alive, their lives in all their perfect chaos laid out on the page. Even knowing from the very first pages that Isabelle is going to die, my heart breaks again and again as I long for it not to be true. Besides Giselle herself, I loved her friends Tina and Jean Michel (maybe more than a friend?) best, but all of the characters, from Giselle’s parents, to Isabelle’s boyfriend Ron, to Aunt Leslie, right on down to their cat Dessalines, are ones that are going to stay with me for a long time.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.